Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why I Play Music

I can't say I've ever taken the time to think about why. Even as a music performance and education major, attending a workshop for one of the most famous jazz pianists in the world, as someone asked him, "Why do you play music?" and he responded, "Because I have to." My gut response hit me like no ton of bricks ever had before. It retorted, "Well, I don't have to."

That was a tough feeling for my brain to chew on for a few days. There I was, in my last semester of college, one of the top (if not the top) students in the entire music department, a star clarinetist, a pretty damn good trumpet player, participating in 10 different ensembles both through the school and not. And I didn't even have to play.

So why was I there? Why be a musician if I didn't really have to play? After discussing it some with one of my professors, I came to this conclusion: "I do have to teach." I was teaching private lessons and small groups at the time. It gave me validation in the world. Being a More Knowledgeable Other (yay, Vygotsky!) and sharing my view of the world and music with students who are trying to find their's a wonderful feeling. Watching students grow as musicians. They had to grow on their own, but only if I exposed them to just the right amount of regular sunlight and watered them with only as much as they needed each time.

And then, a year later (two days ago) as a student teacher, my mentor teacher (wife of the aforementioned professor) was trying to explain to me the process of writing a unit based on a piece. What do I want the students to get out of this? she asked. What is important here for them to know? What is going to enrich their experience of this piece? I don't know, I kept saying or thinking. She asked, "What do you want to learn about when you learn about a piece?...Why do you play music?"

Like an honest fool, I answered "I don't know." The reaction I'd had to that exchange last year hadn't answered the question. She said, "Well, it's probably time to start thinking about that." And so, here I am.

To be honest, I'm not sure what kind of person I am. I must be some kind of diligent, having the patience to learn and develop good tones on several (very different) wind instruments. I must be some kind of thoughtful, having written the ridiculous amount of some 30 single-spaced pages in the Reflection task of my PACT. But I do strange things sometimes. I make choices that in the back of my mind, I know are not the best choices. Like becoming a music major simply because my high school gave me a scholarship for it once. Like having schoolgirl-crushes on guys who would never consider me in that way. Like creating a blog at midnight when I have a rehearsal plan to write. So, one reason I play music is because it was a choice I made. Nobody told me to play music. Nobody ever said I needed to. I just wanted to. And I made it happen and was successful at it. Music represents a lifestyle choice that my soul embraces with every fiber of its being. Music is a good choice that I made.

A significant reason I play music is the social aspect--the feeling of belonging in a group and contributing your own voice to the sound of the whole. I am intensely shy. I've always been that way. It comes in waves--sometimes I feel confident and can say hi to a stranger, but most of the time I feel more comfortable as the approach-ee. If I were to estimate, I would say about 80% of my friends, if not more, are people with whom I have played music. A really good musician can tell you all about his or herself by how s/he plays (or sings). Heck, I know middle schoolers who show up on the musical floor and have something really poignant to say with their instruments. Playing music with people is how I can get to know them--their strengths, weaknesses, concepts of the world. And it's a way I can share parts of myself that many people would never know unless they pried it out of me. Music saves me from falling into an abyss of loneliness and depression.

The third and final reason I will share with you tonight about why I play music is this: I believe that our experience of time and the world is an aesthetic experience. If we are lucky and have use of all five senses, we are continuously stimulated, consciously or not, by each and every sense. When I play music, it feels good. The sound of my clarinet floating gently through time, the smells of cork grease and a freshly sharpened pencil, reading music on a page or communicating to other musicians with eye contact. The feel of my moderately moderate model of clarinet on my fingertips, the sound waves resonating within me and out of the bell. And yes. Even the taste of a reed. The very woody, sweeter taste of a new reed, the slightly sour taste of an old one. Playing music significantly enhances my aesthetic experience of time and the world.

Those are three of my reasons. I'm not sure if any of them will help me write my rehearsal plan. I suppose we'll see. :)


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