|Posted on August 16, 2012 at 1:50 PM|
Because I am married to a NetherlandsIndies woman, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in theNetherlands during the past, several years. As I am in a mixed marriage, I knowsomething about cultural differences, language interpretation andmisinterpretation; I have first hand knowledge, from several viewpoints, howeasily hand and facial expressions, and nuance and the melody of each language,can be misunderstood.
I’m talking about what Jamake Highwaterreferred to when he wrote, “the biggest space between people is culture, notdistance.” The title for one of my blog missives gradually became: “AfricanAmerican Music: Entryway to a Culture” - but as I share some history, ideas,and experiences perhaps you’ll understand something more about the Power ofMusic. Becoming a musician in America is an extremely personalized adventure.
Studies in music therapy and the psychologyof music have described an emotional, physical, possibly rhythmic response tosound that can begin in the womb. The connection to sound from outer and orinner stimuli is one written about for centuries and remains as part of theworld’s written history, from ancient Greece, later, early Christiandom, fromtwenty-five hundred years old Sanskrit musical treatises in India, nearly asold Chinese musical discussion; and sung and told in the ages old West Africanoral traditions of songs, ritual, rhythm and dance. The different studies ofmusic can easily be a life long search, encompassing the music and its’ historyin various centuries, from various cultures; the performance traditions ofthose different music; the countless instruments, written and oral traditionsof remembering music and history; music’s integration with human celebrationand ritual.
As people it is in the lullabies of ourinfancy, our children’s play songs, our birthdays, it accompanies ourmarriages, our funerals, we express our thoughts in language with itsaccompaniment, we find our spiritual side with it, we move, eat, study, pray ormeditate, dance and romance with its accompaniment. It brings us great joy, itcan make some people angry, aggressive, and militant; it can inspire loyalty,and courage. In some cultures, such as the African American musical culture,music was integrated into traditional and contemporary society in a way thatexpands traditional Western definitions of music.
Many of the newly arrived West Africansin America would not have known a separate word for music. It is not somethingone “goes to see” or hear, or something apart from daily life. It is notsomething done only by the few. Instead it is wedded with work, love andsorrow, with spirituality, with creative thought and action. Music is a part ofhealing, and interlaced with the history of a people, and in the way theyremember and tell that history. It tells it in a way that is connected to aculture’s literature, it’s story telling, poetry, dance, and theater, to it’sart.
Music can be the primary focus; it canbe as natural as taking a breath. An example from George Sijon, a Nez PerceNative American, is the idea that through a “Circle of Song” a person isconnected to “my father and my mother’s grandmother” and “to my children’schildren, and their children,” through the circle of songs of a family and atribe. That tradition of songs connects him and his family to nature, spirit,traditional values and ritual. The Circle of Song connects them to a sense ofcommunity, from which they can draw strength and peace from collection of songsto meet the challenges and activities throughout one’s daily life.
In the Netherlands, I have been askedon several occasions whether I see myself as a university music professor, oras a musician - more specifically, a teacher, or a piano player. I don’t everremember being asked such a question in the United States. My view of thenature of a musician in America is that of a person who plays music; writes it,if one has the skills and desire to; teaches it; and studies it by listening,talking about it with other musicians, reading, and practicing. It is a study, thatby its very nature, needs to be passed on, to be taught. For me, and manymusicians, to do one without the other, is unfulfilling, less than a completemusical life. Teaching might take the form of private lessons to a number ofstudents, playing in an ensemble and sharing one’s musical ideas about a phraseor rhythm, showing an avid fan how to play a chord on the guitar, or in what isa very European way - at the conservatory.
Some musicians concentrate more at onetime or another on one of those aspects - sometimes governed by economics,sometimes by opportunity, oftentimes by the motivation to be expressive in acreative, non-verbal way - to play great music with great musicians.