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Jon Foreman

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Music Lessons

Posted: 10/05/2012 1:24 pm

Nietzsche said "without music, life would be a mistake." And, though I've made plenty of mistakes in music and in life, I think I agree with him. Music has given me a language that words cannot. In many ways, my life lessons have been music lessons: the song has taught me how to live and life has taught me how to sing. I want you to join me in my music lessons. I want to convince you that the your song is important.

In our society that values practicality, music appears to be superfluous and unnecessary. At first glance, music has no utilitarian purpose. The song itself cannot harvest grain or cook a chicken or anything like that. Using our pragmatic school system as a barometer, our society places very little importance on the value of music. Our budget cuts have declared an education in the arts to be all but expendable. Yes, there is math and science and language in music. But the human experience illustrates the importance of music better than the equations.

Think back to the day you first fell in love. Or the morning your niece was born. Or the night your grandfather died. Numbers cannot quantify these moments. They cannot be neatly summed up with a formula. No, the most important moments of our existence will not fit into the test tube or the bar graph. Music is the same way. The deep power of the song is mystery that is unique and cannot be quantified.

Music does not contradict the empirical data, the science and the math of the human existence. For example, the biological facts surrounding your grandfather's death are still there. The math is still intact. But grief, joy, pain, fear, and hope are clumsily expressed by science and numbers. These are the times when music comes closer to the truth of the human experience than biology, economics, or psychology. Our laboratories depend on careful control of the environment. However, in life we find ourselves with very little control. The facts surrounding our birth and our eventual demise are seldom ours to choose. Yes, our world is dependent upon math and science but neither can explain our uncontrolled existence or purpose: life or death. Underneath the math our world is built upon the deeper laws of mystery, faith, and doubt.

In this world of uncertainty we find ourselves looking for conclusions: trying to find the chorus in the chaos. Searching for order and patterns: we're are all on the same quest -- the scientist, the mathematician, the composer, and you. We're caught up in the mysterious symphony of life: listening for the hook, looking for the melodious phrases that might somehow bring meaning to the dissonance and the blue notes of our lives. In this endeavor, music is a priceless vehicle to go places where the test tube cannot. The song helps to navigate the spaces outside of our control: the majestic, terrifying slopes of wonder.

Against the backdrop of wonder, I am reminded of the larger symphony going on around me, reminded of how small I really am. The most important moments in my life-long education have occurred when I am humbled, when I am face-to-face with the mystery and forced to recognize my lack of control. Of course, without wonder nothing can be wonderful. These are the frightening, lofty experiences that bring me to my knees.

There is a vulnerability in all of this that can be terrifying. Infinite uncertainty is not for the faint of heart. Especially in music, there will always be critics who would analyze and assail the song rather than sing. But do not be afraid of the pragmatist or the math. These rest only on the surface of the immense ocean of life and death beneath. Poetry runs deeper than prose, it's bursting into song. As Freud himself said, "The poets were here before me." These symphonic seas run deeper than the stock market, or the FDA. The melody is in your blood, mixed with the tales of Homer and the rest.

The song or the silence: This will always be our choice. Will you raise your voice and sing or will you look the other way? All around us, beauty and pain are exploding into being. The song of humanity is bursting into life, tension and resolution, full of dissonance and harmony. The decision is yours and mine: Will we dive in? Will we enter into the song of wonder or remain silent? The symphony of mystery is all around us, music lessons that are available to us at any age- a musical education beyond than the walls of any school. Don't be afraid to play it by ear. Come, raise your voice with mine. And let us choose to sing, to enjoy the wonder of the song while it lasts. Let us sing before our time runs out.

 
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