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Welcome Address to freshman parents at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Ithaca College.

“One of my parents' deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn't be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother's remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, "you're WASTING your SAT scores." On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren't really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the "arts and entertainment" section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it's the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against ***** Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture - why would anyone bother with music? And yet - from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn't just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art.

Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, "I am alive, and my life has meaning."

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn't this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn't shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn't play cards to pass the time, we didn't watch TV, we didn't shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang "We Shall Overcome". Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic.

The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber's heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don't know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings - people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there's some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn't good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding, cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks.

Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can't talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn't happen that way.

The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I'll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland's Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland's, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

 

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70's, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn't the first time I've heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: "During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team's planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn't understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?"

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year's freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life.

Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevys. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, or a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."

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42 minutes ago, bdickens said:

Wow.

^^^^^^^

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2 hours ago, jsg said:

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do.

I believe there is only one way to save the planet. Less people. I can't, and shouldn't go in to detail here on a music only related forum, but if you read between the lines (or headlines) and follow the agenda's being thrust upon our youth, the powers that be are attempting to fix it as we speak while still maintaining their power.

Music, gov., relig., none of it will save the planet. Only going back to a natural state with less intrusion by humans will save the planet. And it doesn't actually need saving. It will take care of itself one way or the other by naturally disastrous means. We're just a tiny blip of an inconvenience in the eyes of the planet. It's been through far worse naturally and survived. Even thrived.

That said, while we're here, absolutely music can make the world a much better place. But it can't save it, sadly.

Just my thoughts on it. I know music has certainly saved my life.

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On 9/14/2021 at 12:33 PM, Shane_B. said:

I believe there is only one way to save the planet. Less people. I can't, and shouldn't go in to detail here on a music only related forum, but if you read between the lines (or headlines) and follow the agenda's being thrust upon our youth, the powers that be are attempting to fix it as we speak while still maintaining their power.

Music, gov., relig., none of it will save the planet. Only going back to a natural state with less intrusion by humans will save the planet. And it doesn't actually need saving. It will take care of itself one way or the other by naturally disastrous means. We're just a tiny blip of an inconvenience in the eyes of the planet. It's been through far worse naturally and survived. Even thrived.

That said, while we're here, absolutely music can make the world a much better place. But it can't save it, sadly.

Just my thoughts on it. I know music has certainly saved my life.

I agree with you, few people are publicly speaking about overpopulation and how it's exacerbating every social, ecological and political problem that we have.  I got into a discussion with some far-leftists (I lean to the left but not so far that I will fall over, just as I like to keep an open mind but not so open that my brains fall out!) who believe that overpopulation is a myth perpetrated by the wealthy countries to keep the poor countries down.  They cannot seem to appreciate that wealth inequality, which is no doubt a serious and real injustice, is being made worse by our population numbers, not better.  After all, those in developing countries want the same comforts that we in the Western world have--running water, electricity, refrigerators, good indoor plumbing, etc.    The far-leftists believe that racism is behind it all (and yes, they are right, racism is a nasty problem) but they fail to see that there are natural boundaries and limits as to how many people the earth can support.  After all, we need undeveloped land, we need forests, grasslands and other areas where humans do not live, do not exploit resources and do not farm.  If we lose these things we are threatening our own survival and prosperity.  

As far as music, I still believe that music can help change the world.  Unfortunately, in an ultra-materialistic and ultra-capitalistic society, music is considered just another industry, another commodity.  It is not.   I bet not a small percentage of the so-called musicians who are trying to make their careers in music wouldn't have even considered music as a profession if it were not for computers, sample libraries and music and audio technology.   There is more crappy music being "produced" by more untalented people than ever.  Hoards of people want to become film composers without the slightest understanding or concern of how visual media, particularly profit-driven media, limits and trivializes music composition.  After all, when the style, length, form, structure, harmony, orchestration and groove of a piece of music is being dominated and controlled by an essentially non-musical visual medium, what do you expect?  Unlike dance, Broadway, songwriting, opera and other forms of musical collaboration, film and TV music are almost wholly governed by non-musical elements, it is most certainly not a 50-50 collaboration, not by a long-shot.  Stravinsky once remarked that the only reason a composer would want to score films is to get a paycheck.   I am not quite that extreme, because I believe there are some composers who really enjoy scoring to picture.  But I know from spending 12 years scoring for media that music composition cannot reach its full potential as so long as it is subservient to a non-musical medium.   I am not saying that film music isn't music, of course it is.  I am saying that one of the great joys for me as a composer is coming up with ideas that are governed by music, and the musical logic and development that permeates a composition.   I love collaboration as much as anyone and there's nothing inherent about scoring to picture that causes music not to be an equal collaborative partner.  But because of economics, because of the production line mentality, because of the greed of entertainment companies and because music is more abstract than the bulk of visual media that is produced, this is most often not the case.  

Music is not merely an earthly career.  It is a life path that demands the entire personality:  Spiritual, intellectual, emotional, moral.  If you don't give it your all, you'll never reach your full potential as a musician.   Art's a funny thing, if you hold back, your art holds back.  If you give your all, the art reveals that too.  There is a degree of transcendence that is absolutely necessary in all artistic creation, and without it mediocrity or worse will be the result.

In any event, the talk I posted is wonderful, Mr. Paulnack understands that music is as essential as water and air.  The Russians have a saying, "It's nice to sing songs, once you have eaten".  True, without food there would be no music, but I think one of the ways  we can sense how sick a society has become is by how pervasive "celebrity culture" is,  and how we are tempted to worship bullshit, bullshit and more bullshit.  We will perish as a species if we remain where we're at in terms of how civilization is currently constructed.  Given that our technological and scientific progress has far outpaced our moral and social development I am no longer sure that time is on our side.  The accelerated changes of the 20th and 21st centuries are demanding the very best from us.   Are we up to the challenge?   Time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by jsg

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I, too, am skeptical that music can save the world. After all, the world will still be here after humanity has left it.

But I am certain that when music disappears, humanity will not be far behind.

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@jsg

Thanks for sharing your story.   I'm for one glad you picked music instead of being a doctor :D

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Thanks for posting that.

My father, a printer, and told me "get a trade" when I told him I wanted to be a musician for life. He came from poverty and the printing trade got him out of the slums. His idea of 'making it' was to work for the Post Office or the Phone Company.

My father played violin, trumpet, ukulele and later in life organ (complete with pumping bass with his foot). He was a fine musician.

When he wanted me to get a trade, he meant well. To him music was a sideline, he saw pro musicians in two ways, (1) poor starving artists and/or (2) drug addicts. He didn't want either for me.

It was because of his advice that I wasted time getting two day-jobs in my life (while still playing music on the weekend). I was testing what it was to be normal, which I found to be terribly over-rated. Neither day job lasted all that long. (I forgive him, he did his best.)

Since the OP mentioned 9-11, here is my 9-11 music story.

I go to symphony concerts. At one time I played in a symphonic band, and symphonies are one of my biggest musical loves (along with the blues for the opposite side of the spectrum love and quite a bit in between).

Shortly after 9-11, we had tickets for and attended a concert by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. We weren't that far from the Cold War, and Russia was still 'the adversary'. I happen to love a lot of Russian composers, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovitch, Rimsky-Korsakov, and so on. Music isn't political to me, either I like it or I don't.

It wasn't on the program, but the first number the orchestra played was "The Star Spangled Banner", we all stood up, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the concert hall. There was a long moment of silence when they got done, and then a thunderous applause. Our adversaries understood and were supporting us.

People said we were in Afghanistan for 20 years, but the reason why the 9-11 attacks happened is that Reagan put US troops on Afghan soil in 1983 and the people that flew those planes were trying to get US troops that they saw as occupying forces off their soil.

I am not going to argue right or wrong because there is a lot about this that I don't understand and since much of the information is classified I couldn't understand even if I tried.

But like Viet Nam, we need to learn a lesson, which is NOT to put our troops on foreign soil and become involved in another nation's civil war. There is no way for us to win in that situation.

That's drifting off-topic.

Music is universal.

When working on the cruise ships, I went to Puerto Rico and played with Salsa musicians. They knew very little English, I knew very little Spanish, but when playing music together, we were speaking the same language. Same for the Reggae band on the ship. Jamaican English may as well be a foreign language to me, for as much as I could understand, but we did much better than the Puerto Ricans, and the music was a lot of fun to play together.

I've played at a few 'memory care' nursing homes, and it is a delight to see people who cannot speak anymore come out of their trance, put a smile on their faces, and sing along to the songs they grew up with.

Each year (before COVID) Leilani and I play at the wheelchair division of the VA hospital 50 miles away for free. It's our way of saying "Thank you" to the vets, but to tell the truth, we get as much out of that as the wheelchair bound vets do.

Every society that I can think of has made music. Even prehistoric musical instruments have been found. Music must be part of our humanity, and essential part of our humanity.

I'm very glad that I didn't follow my father's well-meant advice, and have become a career musician for life.

Insights and incites by Notes

PS I'm not a leftist, I'm a moderate, and I think the world is overpopulated. We are changing the world with our pollution faster than the earth can recover from it. And no, music won't save us from that, but it might make living through the trying times a little more pleasant at times.

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1 hour ago, Notes_Norton said:

Thanks for posting that.

My father, a printer, and told me "get a trade" when I told him I wanted to be a musician for life. He came from poverty and the printing trade got him out of the slums. His idea of 'making it' was to work for the Post Office or the Phone Company.

My father played violin, trumpet, ukulele and later in life organ (complete with pumping bass with his foot). He was a fine musician.

When he wanted me to get a trade, he meant well. To him music was a sideline, he saw pro musicians in two ways, (1) poor starving artists and/or (2) drug addicts. He didn't want either for me.

It was because of his advice that I wasted time getting two day-jobs in my life (while still playing music on the weekend). I was testing what it was to be normal, which I found to be terribly over-rated. Neither day job lasted all that long. (I forgive him, he did his best.)

Since the OP mentioned 9-11, here is my 9-11 music story.

I go to symphony concerts. At one time I played in a symphonic band, and symphonies are one of my biggest musical loves (along with the blues for the opposite side of the spectrum love and quite a bit in between).

Shortly after 9-11, we had tickets for and attended a concert by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. We weren't that far from the Cold War, and Russia was still 'the adversary'. I happen to love a lot of Russian composers, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovitch, Rimsky-Korsakov, and so on. Music isn't political to me, either I like it or I don't.

It wasn't on the program, but the first number the orchestra played was "The Star Spangled Banner", we all stood up, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the concert hall. There was a long moment of silence when they got done, and then a thunderous applause. Our adversaries understood and were supporting us.

People said we were in Afghanistan for 20 years, but the reason why the 9-11 attacks happened is that Reagan put US troops on Afghan soil in 1983 and the people that flew those planes were trying to get US troops that they saw as occupying forces off their soil.

I am not going to argue right or wrong because there is a lot about this that I don't understand and since much of the information is classified I couldn't understand even if I tried.

But like Viet Nam, we need to learn a lesson, which is NOT to put our troops on foreign soil and become involved in another nation's civil war. There is no way for us to win in that situation.

That's drifting off-topic.

Music is universal.

When working on the cruise ships, I went to Puerto Rico and played with Salsa musicians. They knew very little English, I knew very little Spanish, but when playing music together, we were speaking the same language. Same for the Reggae band on the ship. Jamaican English may as well be a foreign language to me, for as much as I could understand, but we did much better than the Puerto Ricans, and the music was a lot of fun to play together.

I've played at a few 'memory care' nursing homes, and it is a delight to see people who cannot speak anymore come out of their trance, put a smile on their faces, and sing along to the songs they grew up with.

Each year (before COVID) Leilani and I play at the wheelchair division of the VA hospital 50 miles away for free. It's our way of saying "Thank you" to the vets, but to tell the truth, we get as much out of that as the wheelchair bound vets do.

Every society that I can think of has made music. Even prehistoric musical instruments have been found. Music must be part of our humanity, and essential part of our humanity.

I'm very glad that I didn't follow my father's well-meant advice, and have become a career musician for life.

Insights and incites by Notes

PS I'm not a leftist, I'm a moderate, and I think the world is overpopulated. We are changing the world with our pollution faster than the earth can recover from it. And no, music won't save us from that, but it might make living through the trying times a little more pleasant at times.

 

1 hour ago, Notes_Norton said:

Thanks for posting that.

My father, a printer, and told me "get a trade" when I told him I wanted to be a musician for life. He came from poverty and the printing trade got him out of the slums. His idea of 'making it' was to work for the Post Office or the Phone Company.

My father played violin, trumpet, ukulele and later in life organ (complete with pumping bass with his foot). He was a fine musician.

When he wanted me to get a trade, he meant well. To him music was a sideline, he saw pro musicians in two ways, (1) poor starving artists and/or (2) drug addicts. He didn't want either for me.

It was because of his advice that I wasted time getting two day-jobs in my life (while still playing music on the weekend). I was testing what it was to be normal, which I found to be terribly over-rated. Neither day job lasted all that long. (I forgive him, he did his best.)

Since the OP mentioned 9-11, here is my 9-11 music story.

I go to symphony concerts. At one time I played in a symphonic band, and symphonies are one of my biggest musical loves (along with the blues for the opposite side of the spectrum love and quite a bit in between).

Shortly after 9-11, we had tickets for and attended a concert by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. We weren't that far from the Cold War, and Russia was still 'the adversary'. I happen to love a lot of Russian composers, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovitch, Rimsky-Korsakov, and so on. Music isn't political to me, either I like it or I don't.

It wasn't on the program, but the first number the orchestra played was "The Star Spangled Banner", we all stood up, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the concert hall. There was a long moment of silence when they got done, and then a thunderous applause. Our adversaries understood and were supporting us.

People said we were in Afghanistan for 20 years, but the reason why the 9-11 attacks happened is that Reagan put US troops on Afghan soil in 1983 and the people that flew those planes were trying to get US troops that they saw as occupying forces off their soil.

I am not going to argue right or wrong because there is a lot about this that I don't understand and since much of the information is classified I couldn't understand even if I tried.

But like Viet Nam, we need to learn a lesson, which is NOT to put our troops on foreign soil and become involved in another nation's civil war. There is no way for us to win in that situation.

That's drifting off-topic.

Music is universal.

When working on the cruise ships, I went to Puerto Rico and played with Salsa musicians. They knew very little English, I knew very little Spanish, but when playing music together, we were speaking the same language. Same for the Reggae band on the ship. Jamaican English may as well be a foreign language to me, for as much as I could understand, but we did much better than the Puerto Ricans, and the music was a lot of fun to play together.

I've played at a few 'memory care' nursing homes, and it is a delight to see people who cannot speak anymore come out of their trance, put a smile on their faces, and sing along to the songs they grew up with.

Each year (before COVID) Leilani and I play at the wheelchair division of the VA hospital 50 miles away for free. It's our way of saying "Thank you" to the vets, but to tell the truth, we get as much out of that as the wheelchair bound vets do.

Every society that I can think of has made music. Even prehistoric musical instruments have been found. Music must be part of our humanity, and essential part of our humanity.

I'm very glad that I didn't follow my father's well-meant advice, and have become a career musician for life.

Insights and incites by Notes

PS I'm not a leftist, I'm a moderate, and I think the world is overpopulated. We are changing the world with our pollution faster than the earth can recover from it. And no, music won't save us from that, but it might make living through the trying times a little more pleasant at times.

Thanks for telling your interesting story Norton.  It reminds me two different things, 1) Kurt Vonnegut said that if you really want to irritate your parents either tell them you're gay or you're going into the arts, and 2), when I told my dad at the age of 19 that I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I was going to be a composer, he said, "You're going to be a bum".  When I was making a lot of money scoring for animation he changed his tune, and I know he was worried that I wouldn't be able to support myself.  But still, it's hard for many people to understand how one can devote one's life to something as abstract, nebulous, immaterial and as fleeting as music.  But thankfully, we do. 

There's an exercise anyone can do that's very simple.  Lie down in a comfortable spot, take a few deep breaths and relax, and imagine you've made it to 95 and you only have a few hours left before your death.  Ask yourself about the choices and decisions you made, and if you really led the kind of life that was best for you, the life that would give you the greatest sense of purpose and meaning.  I did this little exercise many years ago and realized I didn't want to write music just to make money, I wanted to write music to satisfy some strange but powerful artistic longing in me.  So I left the world of commercial scoring, began teaching composition and music theory and began to write music that expresses my musical impulses and creativity in a more honest way.   I am very grateful that I've been able to pursue music my entire adult life.  I could have been born in a war-torn country like Afghanistan or Syria and may have made far different choices. 

I know we are supposed to avoid politics and religion in this forum, and I do my best do do so.  But even when one is not into politics it's still true that politics is into us, and if religion is the ultimate pursuit of values, meaning and purpose, there's no doubt in my mind that music is way up there with the deepest mysteries of existence. 

Edited by jsg

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After I toured the country, almost got famous (made it as far as the opening act in concerts for major stars), and my father saw that I could make a living doing music and that I wasn't a drug addict,  he was comfortable with my choice.  Still, I think he would have worried less if I was working for the Post Office.

I play music to have fun and make money. If I was rich, I'd still play music, and probably the same way. I thoroughly enjoy entertaining people and playing the music they want to hear. I also mix in some just for myself, and they don't mind that at all. In fact, some of them end up requesting songs we learned for our own enjoyment.

I'm weird, I enjoy playing "Mustang Sally" and the other 'war horses' just as much as I do anything else. There is a dialog we have with the audience, we play music they like, we tell lame jokes, and they are part of the act. We have become close with a lot of our audience members, been out on their boats, had dinner with them, know their ups and downs, it's like they are our extended family.

I took arranging and theory lessons, and I make our duo's backing tracks from scratch. I enjoy doing this (I also play sax, flute, wind synth, drums, bass, guitar, some keys, and vocals). It's a lot of fun, the songs are in our key, our arrangement and I almost always leave room for the solo hog (that's me) or my wife to play an improvised solo in the song.

This led to writing aftermarket user styles for Band-in-a-Box and I've sold them to musicians in 100 different countries. I've even gotten recognized in music stores in the US and overseas as "The real Bob 'Notes' Norton".  That and a dollar will buy a cup of coffee, but it feels good just the same.

History:

I was in school band since the 7th grade. I also got in a rock band after school. We were terrible, but so was everybody else back then.

I got my first gig when I was still in Jr. High School, and it was for a school dance.

There I was on the stage with my very best friends. We were having the time of our lives, playing the top40 songs of the day that we worked so hard to learn to the best of our ability.

Then I looked out and that cute girl who didn't even acknowledge my existence in English class was 'making eyes' at me.

And at the end of the night, they actually paid me money!!! That's when I decided that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

And other than those two day gigs, that's what I've done. Years later I read a book, I think it was from the author Joseph Campbell, who advised "follow your bliss". That's what I'm doing and if I had to do it again, I'd still become a musician.

I never got rich, but I paid off the mortgage on a decent house in a very nice area, I have no debt, and until COVID took a vacation every year either close to home or as far away as China and Australia. I'm married to a musician (we were in different bands when I met), we are happy and both enjoy entertaining (it's our second favorite thing to do). 😉

When my life is about over, if I have a chance to reflect on it, unless something radically unexpected happens between now ant then, I'll look back and be satisfied with my choices and have no regrets.

I play music with my wife/best-friend, they applaud every 5 minutes and pay us money. How lucky can a guy get!

Notes

 

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