Friday, September 4, 2009

What's It All About, Art?

Have you ever had something happen in your life that was so important to you, you couldn't figure out how you lived without it before?

Perhaps it's meeting that Special Someone or discovering the exhilaration of accomplishing a physical challenge. Maybe it's seeing a movie or reading a book that affected you so much, you were convinced your life would be forever changed.

Sometimes they're little things you don't even realize, but you understand that something has been added to your life that seems to improve it or make you feel better.

Maybe it's just listening to the radio and you hear a new song you hadn't heard before and – wow – it really reaches you. Maybe the words put something in perspective for you, helps you understand something.

Maybe you've been having a rough time but here was something that took you outside yourself to show you there's another side to dealing with life.

These can happen almost any way at any time – and come from places you might never have expected it.

Maybe you were reading the Harry Potter books and thought, "that must be cool - I'd like to be a writer." Or maybe you thought "that was cool - maybe I should read something else."

*** ***** ******** ***** ***


A few years ago, I was at a library where some musicians were performing an informal concert in the middle of a beautiful fall weekend. I think some of the library patrons were annoyed – the music was a noisy intrusion on their wanting to read quietly. But a lot of people came over and sat down to listen.

Near the back of this space was a pathway between the wall and the library stacks. A young woman tried to sneak past with her son – he was maybe four or five – looking self-conscious about being seen by the audience and not wanting to disturb the players. But her son just stopped and stood there, completely still. When she motioned for him to come on, follow her, he just shook his head and kept looking at the backs of the musicians as they played. She came over, put the books down she'd been carrying, picked him up and set him on her lap. They sat there for the rest of the half-hour or so and the boy seemed really attentive.

When the audience would applaud, the boy banged his hands together, too. He had a big smile on his face. Then they got up and left.

I don't care if the boy started taking violin lessons the next year or not. I don't even really care if he's been taken to a symphony concert since then. What I care about is he had an experience that apparently deeply affected him and I'm glad his mother gave in to it and stayed so he could hear it rather than pull him away with a “you won't like that stuff” kind of attitude.

Maybe, later on, he'll hear some classical music and remember that experience and like it when most kids his age are listening to the latest pop music on their ipods or whatever technology they'd have, then.

There are so many things in life for us to experience and so little time to experience them in. Any occasion that brings in something a little different from outside the every-day experiences helps make the world a bigger and hopefully more friendly place. It's unfortunate that so much of city life is dirty and violent. The chance to look at a picture or see a full moon on a clear night can sometime remind us there's more to what we can know.

There was someone telling a group of people about a summer theater camp for middle-school kids, most of them from the city. They had been talking about Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and why that meant something special. Most of the play's action takes place in the woods at night around the magical time of the summer equinox (what used to be called “Midsummer”).

So the teacher took the students into the woods to hang out one night – it happened to be around a full moon – and listen to the sounds and get the feel of what that special time was like. The sound of the crickets and tree-frogs, the coolness of the night air, the silvery gleam of the moon through the trees was more magical than scary and for inner-city kids something totally outside their own experiences. But they could bring that first-hand experience back to the camp when they'd talk about how the characters got confused when they ran into the forest and how, eventually, everything turned out right.

Music is something that we can think about even when it has no words to tell us what it means. It doesn't matter that the composer may not have intended you to have that reaction. But music can spark your imagination a thousand different ways, if you let it.

Check out these videos about Fingal's Cave - a real place that inspired Mendelssohn to write a piece of music.

- Dr. Dick