Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Voracious Virtuosity 9/09/09

Depressing things are somewhere around, all the time. Look them in the face when you have to, but don't give them any rights.

DB - The Vagabond
Today marks the 8th anniversary of my moving into this town and this apartment building, 2 days before the World Trade Center came down. If I hadn't moved here I would have been right underneath it when it happened.
Come sing with me.

This is not an essay about Beethoven. It's one about Dmitry Shostakovich and about looking demoralization in the eye and staring it down. But as I was sitting here thinking about how to start this I put on a CD of Beethoven symphonies and was reminded that he began his very first symphony with an unresolved chord. It is a very quiet, modest, unassuming beginning and yet it is outlandishly revolutionary. Nobody ever began, would ever begin, a piece of music with a "dissonant" unresolved chord. And Beethoven did it in his very first symphony. "What on earth was the man thinking of?"

Beethoven was not well liked by the critics and others in his early days. He was staring into the face of a tradition of western European music. He eventually achieved success even though he went deaf, a condition which depressed him beyond what I can imagine. At the end he turned the tables on that tradition once again by introducing singers into his final symphony. But he was never threatened with arrest and imprisonment as far as I know.

Dmitry Shostakovich, 1906 - 1975, was a Russian composer who is and will always remain one of the most important voices of 20th Century music. His works were widely acclaimed and performed all over the world, and yet in Russia he was constantly in trouble with the authorities. Stalin didn't like him and the critics agreed with Stalin, of course. Dmitry lived under the constant threat of being arrested and sent off to Siberia as had happened to many of his friends. He was forced to write under very strict, imposed standards of traditional tonality and musical expression. He pushed those limits out to the very edges. And he was harshly judged for it. He was so certain of his arrest that he kept a packed suitcase under his bed in case they came fo him in the middle of the night, as they were known to do. And if he was sure they were coming for him he would take his suitcase out on the landing and wait for them so as to spare his family the humiliation of his arrest. It never happened but the threat and fear of it lasted for many years. And yet all that time he continued to compose his music. If he had made a single step into atonality, the musical aesthetic of the day, he would certainly have been hauled off in an instant. What his critics were hearing from him was a muddy mess. What the rest of the world was hearing was genius.

How many of us could continue to live and work under that kind of danger? Why wasn't Shostakovich demoralized and turned away from any further hope of recognition and accomplishment? He lived and worked under conditions more depressing than I can imagine. Why didn't he give up?

"Aw, give it up. Don't be crazy. It'll never work. You'll never be rich and famous, so why bother. Don't waste your time. Find something practical to do." I was never in danger of being arrested for my work as some actors have been. But I heard those words when I was young(er). I'll bet 90% of the artists of the world have heard the same things. They are designed to demoralize, frustrate, dissuade and depress. And a great deal of the time they come out of envy. So what do you do? Do you throw down your flute and your paint brush and quit the field? Do you keep a suitcase under your bed just in case? Or do you look all the wrinkled nihilisms in the face and say "I don't care what you think or do. Your rights do not extend over my music."

Yeah, Mama don't allow no guitar playing 'round here
Yeah, Mama don't allow no guitar playing 'round here
I don't care what mama don't allow I'll play my guitar anyhow.

(JJ Cale)

DB - The Vagabond
May you find and enjoy the last rose of summer.

This is not a contest.

A young man out west just took home 88 million dollars from the lottery.

Whether you play the lottery or not, if you suddenly had 88 million dollars, or the equivalent of whatever your currency is, what are the first three things you would do with it?

You have all summer to answer if you wish.

21 responses so far.



Beth said...

It's hard to imagine that people have been jailed for not making music to a certain specification. Sometimes we don't realize how lucky we have it.

Moved two days before the Towers were attacked...I'm thinking you DO realize how lucky you are. Hugs, Beth

Big Mark 243 said...

The tall poppy syndrome is harsh. But to those who stand up to the constant pounding last forever, do they not?

Life is a lot like that, in the one who endures is the one who reaps the fuller bounty. Appreciate what you have and live within the expectations you have for yourself, and your world expands.

Arlene (AJ) said...

What a blessing for all of us who enjoy reading your blog that you moved from the Twin Towers area just 2 days before that horrendous tragedy. You were indeed meant to be safe so that you could touch the hearts of all of us who read your site and care about you.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Glad you are posting on this anniversary :o)

Lori J said...

Hi there,
Thank-you for that entry....
Often I reflect how blessed I am living in N. America...but also I realise because of my affluency I sometimes am apathatic to situation, have very little determination in tasks, and generally live life without fully appreciating the gift God gave me...
I sincerely am trying to embrace my life and live each day to the fullest.

Sending you blessings,