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Hi Bro, I thought you should have this...truly inspirational.


Speech by Karl Paulnack of Boston Conservatory

February 21, 2009 at 6:18 pm (Music) (Pirates of Penzance, Guest post, Boston Conservatory, Messiaen, Karl Paulnack, Speech)

This essay by Karl Paulnack, the Music Department head at Boston Conservatory (my alma mater), is based on his speech to incoming freshmen. It was forwarded to me by my co-Mabel from my last Pirates, Elizabeth Begnoche, and I loved it so much I wrote the author (who I didn’t know- a lot of faculty turnover since I graduated, it seems!) to ask permission to repost it, as it had been shooting around the internet by email but I didn’t see any *official* posting of it online. He wrote me back a lovely email and granted me permission to post it, so here it is. I hope this reaches you as much as it did me.

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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 Nazi 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 bet ween 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 Worl d 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 t he 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, 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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PS Mr. Moderator I wasn't sure where to post this so if you need to please move :bluewink:
 

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like most of the kenny g threads this is very long....unlike most of the kenny g threads this is interesting!!! .... im not going to go through the kenny g threads to figure out the relevance,so would you mind telling me/us???
 

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like most of the kenny g threads this is very long....unlike most of the kenny g threads this is interesting!!! .... im not going to go through the kenny g threads to figure out the relevance,so would you mind telling me/us???
I can't answer for Jazzaferri, but to me that means that music is more important to our lives than many people give it credit for, and I think the important message for me, is that we should open our minds up about music and think of it beyond art or entertainment. For me it makes me think about looking for something beyond the notes, and even music that on the face of it is just entertainment (e.g. Kenny G ) can be as important as any more "serious" music. The context and emotional effect can be more than the sum of the parts. I'm sure we may all have different interpretations though.

The point about musicless weddings and films is very pertinent.
 

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I must have totally missed how this has anything to do with Kenny G
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Kenny's music has very likely made a lot of people feel better at some low point in their lives. IMO the highest calling a musician can aspire to.

No law says you have to like what he plays, but am saddened by the fact that some in this forum feel the need to put him down.
 

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Just speaking for myself, I've come to accept things for what they are and not automatically reject them or be critical of them for what they are not.

Case in point: I played for a few years in the house band for the legendary tap dancer Peg Leg Bates. There was another sax player in the band as well. He could play some outrageous blues-based, gutbucket tenor; he made his horn really, really talk! But his musical vocabulary was quite limited. I knew more and could play more ideas than he could, but I couldn't come close to achieving what he achieved inside his musical world. I was always astonished by his soloing, every night.

I would never be happy playing inside that limited concept ( I still wonder why that is). But that was all he needed to make the music.

The funny part was I always felt like the lesser player and he always felt like the lesser player, too.
 

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Kenny's music has very likely made a lot of people feel better at some low point in their lives. IMO the highest calling a musician can aspire to.
Sure, naturally....I think it's evident that he touched someone out there, don't you?
I believe the highest calling is that of composer. In my opinion, there is no position higher regardless if financially successful or not which is irrelevant.
It's just an incredible position to attain or to aspire to attain. ("Music is the best"....FZ)
If Kenny G has helped people deal with some low point in their life with his music then for those people he has a function and a viable one.

No law says you have to like what he plays, but am saddened by the fact that some in this forum feel the need to put him down.
Why get upset about stupidity? You're going to have to deal with stupidity your whole life. Getting upset about some who dislike and insecurely disparage him is simply the human mind at work and we'll see that on many variable levels. As long as it's harmless, as in disliking Kenny G on a music forum, then who cares? But could there be more to just disliking a musician? Or are we witnessing more to that particular individual then we care to? You'll have to consult your imagination.

It's their right to openly dislike him and you can't mean that we all have to act civil according to your standards. That's just not rational thinking. This is not a perfect world obviously, and internet forums has made that abundantly evident. It's natural to respond where idiocy may tend to appear pronounced and the ones who are more agile in common sense may feel a need to confront it. Sure, stupidity is a genetic adaptation as a result of not accessing an individual mind but rather a conformed mind through environment. Education/open mindedness cannot flourish with this obstacle. Stupidity has become the obstacle for the potential of an educated/intelligent mind to cultivate.

Stupidity has to run it's course in the natural path of evolution before it can actually wither away.....Or will it ever? Evolution is a slow and deliberate process. Where we are right now, evolutionarily speaking, is where we should be. Evolution does not lie and evolution is right on schedule, so to speak. We shouldn't be more evolved or less evolved and so I don't expect anything out of anyone as a result of this level.

My only advice is to expect stupidity and then when you confront someone who is not an idiot you will enjoy that individual. It's a bonus in our evolutionary level. Don't expect intelligence from anyone because then in most cases you'll only be disappointed.
 

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Don't expect intelligence from anyone because then in most cases you'll only be disappointed.
As my daddy used to say-"2% of people think, 8% think they think, and 90% would rather die than think!"
Hah!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Mike 1955. Good point although I must say that sorrow is fleeting.


I think it was GB Shaw who said "man is born ignorant, it takes a great deal of education to make him stupid" LOL Good quip regardless
 

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Thanks for posting that, jazzferrari. I really enjoyed it.

The point about musicless weddings and films is very pertinent.
Definitely. Just the other night I watched the original film, produced in 1935, of the "Thin Man" series. It's a somewhat humorous detective series, a great period piece, and the main characters put away enough martinis to kill most people. Anyway, it had no musical soundtrack at all. In a couple of nightclub scenes, a band was playing in the background, but there was no general music soundtrack and most of the scenes were very 'dead' feeling and uninteresting because of that. I've noticed this with a lot of old movies, before they figured out the importance and power of a musical soundtrack.
 

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Great i am glad my thread has lead to a more in depth commentary. Firstly the world owes a lot to the Ancient Greeks there is not doubt. Themistocles, Leonidas and Megas Alexandros - These are three people I would love to have at my dinner table. As stated above, 'music as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects' becomes a very personal event. Thats why it becomes so obscenely offensive that other people decide to impose their musical moral compass on others. Its vile in fact. . . Finally would like to say that i do not agree with the comments in the OP's email quotation that "Music is a basic need of human survival." I do wonder if it was really meant in a "black and white' sense ?
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Evan1 Dan Levetin, author of this is your brain on music and one of the leading music/brain researchers postulated that man's singing predated speech and is probably the reason why all of us are here LOL.

I think the survival need reference (I'm guessing here) is more about our emotional "survival" not like food water air and shelter but next level to that.
 

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One of the main reasons No Country For Old Men is such a great movie (I think so anyway), is that it has no soundtrack and lets the viewer determine their own emotional response. Personally speaking I dislike movie soundtracks.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Speaking of movie/TV music for any of you fans of A Touch of Frost, an English detective series Barbara Thompsom does the soprano sax playing and wrote the scores and arrangements with her co-conspirator whose name I can't remember (he is a drummer).

I really enjoy the music that she does and love her soprano sound.
 

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One of the main reasons No Country For Old Men is such a great movie (I think so anyway), is that it has no soundtrack and lets the viewer determine their own emotional response. Personally speaking I dislike movie soundtracks.
Marton, I was going to post the same thing about No Country for Old Men. I'm not a movie person, but I've seen that film about 5 times now, it's so layered w/ meanings (& I almost never watch movies more than once)...during/after the second viewing, it hit me that there was virtually no music. I've since researched it a bit & there are a few moments w/ some background bells...Eastern-type, meditative bell/bowl sounds, like when Chugar shoots at the crow when driving over the bridge. I enjoy soundtracks (Angels in America is fantastic) overall, as I have a good friend who studied that angle at Berklee so it got me hip to some of what's going on w/ respect to timing, etc.

No Country, for me, is such a great film, that I find the soundtrack is often the sound of my breathing & heartbeat during the many tense moments...I even think the Cohen Bros were going for that effect.

Great OP, by the way, really enjoyed that, thanks. I find it also to be a commentary about how "musical entertainment" can be so diverse depending on the listener, & one man's trash is another's treasure. And that "to be entertained" can mean a very different thing depending on perspective/mood/personality...Was the old soldier entertained? Not in the traditional sense, but to be moved in that way could perhaps be thought of as such, if defined more broadly. Semantics perhaps, but it seems at the root of what is often all the fuss on this forum. The most important thing in a debate or constructive discussion is to clearly define what the debate is about from the outset...this can be even more difficult in type-written commentary, as some of the nuance is lost.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I wonder at how much the effect of little/no music is due to the fact that most movies have music so the contrast is significant.

I rather suspect that if almost all movies had no music, the ones that did would really stand out for having it. LOL such is mankind eh
 

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Marton, I was going to post the same thing about No Country for Old Men. I'm not a movie person, but I've seen that film about 5 times now, it's so layered w/ meanings (& I almost never watch movies more than once)...during/after the second viewing, it hit me that there was virtually no music. I've since researched it a bit & there are a few moments w/ some background bells...Eastern-type, meditative bell/bowl sounds, like when Chugar shoots at the crow when driving over the bridge. I enjoy soundtracks (Angels in America is fantastic) overall, as I have a good friend who studied that angle at Berklee so it got me hip to some of what's going on w/ respect to timing, etc.

No Country, for me, is such a great film, that I find the soundtrack is often the sound of my breathing & heartbeat during the many tense moments...I even think the Cohen Bros were going for that effect.

Great OP, by the way, really enjoyed that, thanks. I find it also to be a commentary about how "musical entertainment" can be so diverse depending on the listener, & one man's trash is another's treasure. And that "to be entertained" can mean a very different thing depending on perspective/mood/personality...Was the old soldier entertained? Not in the traditional sense, but to be moved in that way could perhaps be thought of as such, if defined more broadly. Semantics perhaps, but it seems at the root of what is often all the fuss on this forum. The most important thing in a debate or constructive discussion is to clearly define what the debate is about from the outset...this can be even more difficult in type-written commentary, as some of the nuance is lost.
I watched that movie maybe five or six times myself, looking for clues as to what the story is saying by way of subtext. It's truly an absorbing masterpiece. Think I'll watch it some more. The Coen Bros are my favourite directors and produced my all time favourite film this far; Fargo. Which had a soundtrack, and a very good one, so I guess I'm not altogether opposed. Black Hawk Down had a great soundtrack also, in fact, I bought the album. I guess my all encompassing anti-soundtrack statement was not quite accurate. I do however think that in general, soundtracks can be a detracting force, depending on who the composer is I guess, along with the director.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
Marton I kinda think soundtracks can be like a jam,,, when great they can be really great ... on the off days seems everyone is stepping on everyone else LOL

I really enjoyed all those movies too.
 
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