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Stay humble
Music and the art of servitude
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Stay humble
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Posted by Dylan Christopher, 6 months ago
Tags: music, servitude, egotism

Stay humble

It is hard when looking at the modern-day musician to remember that the profession owes its origins to servitude.  With the swaggering egos and selfie-taking divas, the modern-day musician could not be further from where it started hundreds of years ago.

In the western world, before music was so readily available in all areas of our life, only a few hundred years ago, the only place a person outside of wealth and status could hear it, was in church.

Obviously, music existed outside of the church grounds, in forms of folksong and madrigals, but generally, it was a rare commodity that was cherished.  If you were lucky enough to own an instrument, you most certainly were either posted in a church or in the court of a noble.  Here we have two faucets, the church for the masses, the court for the aristocracy.

Regardless, both avenues for music saw the musician as a servant; they were there to provide a service.  The function always placed more emphasis on the music they made, rather than their talents as musicians; performers or composers.  Over time, there was a switch whereby musicians became the object of worship and admiration; this is ironic given the religious origins, but not surprising.

As music made its way out of churches and into concert halls and opera houses accessible to the general public, the gathering audiences directed their worship to the artists and composers.  A general observation would be that today a mainstream popstar can fill a football stadium with tens of thousands of people.

Ludwig van Beethoven, a classical composer and musician who I greatly admire, is revered in music circles, yet the maestro, Beethoven, actively detested the idea of hero worship; almost a humorous irony.  Beethoven famously withdrew the dedication of his Third Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, when he, Napoleon, after unifying France from the tyranny of monarchy during the age of enlightenment, crowned himself Emperor of the French; an idol for worship.

Beethoven, enraged by this perceived betrayal of the people, exclaimed:

"So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!"

This is not to say musicians were not worshipped by adoring fans in the past; to the contrary.  George Frederic Handel had his Divas, who were all gifted vocalists adored by all who heard them sing.  The name Bach preceded any member of the family who bared it professionally.  Even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became legendary in his lifetime.  However, their music was considered by them to be the focus of their exploit, not themselves, their fame, or fortune.

Frederic Chopin was one of the richest teachers of music to ever live, not yet considering Muzio Clementi, however, despite their fortune, popularity and repeat income through sales of their sheet music, or in Clementi’s case, pianos, they never stopped manufacturing, writing or teaching to be worshipped.  Both continued to write music up to their deaths, respectively.

In the present day, it is difficult to see a modern-day pop star as a servant to their fans and patrons like Mozart or Beethoven; difficult, but not impossible.  There are musicians who try to remain humble, focusing on their music; you almost never hear about anything other than their music.  Conversely, there are musicians who we hear nothing but the latest tabloid scandal.

In the words of Brendan Behan, “There's no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary”.  For many musicians today, this is true; so long as we are talking about them, they remain in our consciousness.  Talking about the latest scandal gives it power; a fundamental design of the scandal.

When newcomers arrive, first starting their music lessons, it is more than likely that they too have an ill-advised delusion about fame and admiration, often putting the actual craft of music making last.  Many of them underestimate how much effort is required to make even the most basic of pleasing sounds on any instrument pursued for study.

The focus is always impressing other people; every teacher can tell stories of students who aspire to gain the coveted Grade 8 Qualification, yet do nothing required to actually ensure a pass.  Or perhaps the student who wants to learn one piece of music that is far out of their technical capability for the sole purpose of having a piece of music to dazzle any potential listener.

All of the above is based on pure, unadulterated, self-centered egotism that is very different from the origins of music based on servitude for the listener and moving them via shared experience.  If success in music is truly the aim of a person’s pursuit in music-making, the listener and therefore the sounds we make for them, must be considered as a priority and not an accidental collateral to our selfish desires.

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Dylan completed his music training with honours at Colchester Institute, where he studied piano with Australian pianist Lesley Young, and composition with British composer Dr Mark Bellis. While studying, in 2009, Dylan won Colchester Institute’s Canon Jack Award for Solo Piano adjudicated by Andrew Ball.  A composer, promoter, and advocate of contemporary classical music, Dylan joined the membership of Colchester New Music in 2014.

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