The inverse of From the Top…this would be something interesting, would it not?
What if an audience of younger people, teenagers and children, were to see the great masters play music for them, the musicians over fifty, instead of the other way around? Wouldn’t that be something? Why must the young inspire the old, who are on their way out, rather than the old inpiring the young, the latter having their whole lives ahead of them?
I don’t know. Another mystery of life that could be figured out eventually (but figuring it out depletes one’s entire life, as Gustav Mahler realized too late after his death). I mean, these kids are great players, I get it. They deserve attention, yes. Am I jealous that they are coddled and pampered and treated verily like royalty on that show? Yes. And the old masters of music and art are ignored and forgotten as their bodies slide slowly into decrepitude. I may be wrong about that, but that’s the way it seems. This is why I enjoy stories of struggle a whole lot, and From the Top doesn’t seem redeeming in any way, shape, or form because what kinds of struggles besides working a lot and maybe having less raucous social lives have these kids had? They know how to be alone. But do they know the utter loneliness of Nietzche, his concept of struggle with your inner chaos? Or that Schumann was severely mentally ill, suffering from psychosis and depression? Or that Ravel never married because he hadn’t the nerves to tell the women he loved throughout his life the way he felt about them? Or of Peter Tchaikovsky, the gay composer of Czarist Russia who could never tell people that he was attracted to men because the consequence was pain of exile or death? What that struggle, of perpetual silence and restraint, might have felt like? Of the philosophical neurosis of Gustav Mahler, of the mute cries of the deaf Beethoven, who failed over and over at life in general, and yet triumphed in his search for the sublime in art?
THIS IS WHAT MAKES ART, ART.
Not skill. Not virtuosity. Not mere flair with the audience and stage, and most definitely not the cutesy sort of naive innocence and trite, cliche words that some of those young musicians say on their interviews. True virtuosity is transparent expression and expressivity of your feelings, how one chooses to do it is merely the means, the vehicle. The end result is what makes the audience cry and cheer in jubilation.
Not to say they are bad people, nor are they spoiled brats. No, most of them have done a lot for the world of classical music, or are on their way. They are none like a Kim Kardashian or a Donald Trump. They try to be philanthropic and often succeed, and yes, they deserve the attention they receive. This is a systemic problem, as everything usually is. It is, in the end, the adult that teaches the kid how to behave, and not the other way around. Christopher O’ Riley, in my view, babies these young kids. You can hear it in his words and his tone of voice. He tells them what they want to hear, first and foremost, and then does not criticize them, does not question them, feeds them things that obviously they’ve heard thousands of times before from friends and family. Their stories are told briefly on the show. As far as I can tell, everyone suffers at least somewhat. But all of this is rendered invisible on the show. Everything about these young musicians seems immaculate, perfect in every way; they are shy but have achieved much; down to earth, and yet they can play in circles around the less talented ones in music; they have parents that have given them the world and more. It seems like they have everything. I know most of them have a vague idea of what the men who have written the music they now play have had to endure in order to even conceive the ideas of their compositions, and the solitude they’ve had to cultivate, they definitely are aware of and even know something about. They need to have at least cultivated solitude, because becoming a virtuoso demands that. The practice room is a familiar place to all serious musicians, whether they like that or not. It is their safe haven, their Dojo, and their cave.
The thing is, though – the problem, I think, is me. You see, I never like to write anymore in order to rant, because usually this leads to propaganda, to rhetorical writing, and everything is said, but nothing is learned from either reader or author. Such rants lack grace and even depth.
At the core of myself, I need – like I need food, love and shelter – affirmation that I am valid. It is like a drug. When I hear music from a suffering loner and it’s honest and from the heart, I can appreciate it more. That affirms me. It is this validation of my ego that makes From the Top contemptible to me. Because I feel that these young musicians have no deep experiences to draw from in order to put that kind of pathos into their musical instruments, and I feel that any they contrive will be artificial and theoretical at best, not informed by tactile feeling. This isn’t their fault: they are not old enough, they haven’t had the time for reflection and contemplation and rumination, no reason to also. They haven’t had their souls crushed, to have their egos diminished, to have their hopes burned and then finally, have a day at the river to sit and think about the water, how it heals, and it may teach them how to live again. When a person makes music or any kind of expressionistic art, transforming their deep wounds into something to be adored, this is what I love, and what I need.
Friedrich Nietzche, in his Book for None and All, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, speaks of the Overman who longs to “Go Under.” To go underneath it all, all the riff-raff, the bedlam of the multitude, the noise of the herd mentality and look inward to find the original chaos of ourselves. I would argue that Nietzche only did did this (or desired to do this) because he had to, not because it was a casual choice. I mean, if you had a choice – like a choice between buying a croissant or a bagel – a choice between living a lonely life in search of ultimate truth, or living a life of glamor and achievement, I believe any person would choose the last one. Well, at least one man in history chose the first one after experiencing much of the second: his name was Siddhartha Gautama, and he lived around 500 B.C. in India.
And so, yes, in this land of great opportunity called America, many of us have choices we wouldn’t otherwise have.
Then why do some people succeed in music and some don’t?
My Dad likes to say: “Just think of how many Edgar Meyers or Bozo Paradziks there are in the world, how many virtuosos to be there are who we don’t know about, that’ll never become virtuosos because they lack the means to buy an instrument, or even go to public school? And all of the Jews massacred under the Nazi Regime? Just think about all the virtuoso musicians and great artists that could have been prominent if that hadn’t happened…”
(My anger needs tempering and soothing. My jealousy needs to be comforted by something. When there is nothing or no one that can help it, I employ the bow and arrow of self – abandonment/vulnerability and then write my musings down, in order to smite the devious demon that is named ‘spite’. What the Buddha calls the ‘afflictive’ emotions. We all need to rant. We all get jealous. Even Donald Trump gets jealous. When one has all the money in the world, they will crave something else, something they don’t have. What he lacks is empathy and emotional intelligence. The grass is always greener on the other pasture, as they say, the one that we cannot see, but know is there.)
So the “systemic problem” that I alluded to before? The inequality of people remains. The systemic economic racism and the racialist attitudes that justify that. It goes beyond race, of course. They are people other than minorities who don’t get attention or resources that they may deserve.
Maybe… all I’m trying to say is “damn, why couldn’t that have been me?” and possibly couldn’t say it in so many words, because I am aware of the fact that reciting a cryptic soliloquy is easier than saying “I love you”, or “I hate you.” The act of being direct is one of the most difficult things to do for me. Perhaps, if I could confront myself like this, I would feel better about From the Top.
This Mahler symphony’s fourth movement is one of the most gorgeous thing ever. They never play this on NPR’s Capital Public Radio’s classical music segment, ever.
(By the way, I would avoid reading youtube comments. No matter how smart they sound, they are always, always, always myopic and trite, and were written in about 2 seconds. They lack grace and depth, and especially a consideration of the other side. That’s just my opinion, though. Do what you like. The greatest dagger in the heart we can inflict on ourselves -besides a literal dagger in the heart – is to deny our true desires, for pride or for glory or for some other ideal, which is, in the end, all sound and fury, noise and anger, signifying very little to nothing at all. Remember what Marcellus Wallace said, for he said the same thing to Butch in the bar, except more directly and succinctly than I just did).