I never involve myself in discussions regarding the existence or otherwise of God because I know I’ll become involved in bottomless speculation. If we set out to discover how or, especially why, we all arrived here we could ponder the issues for a very long time with little, if anything, to show for our efforts. If, on the other hand, we try and understand what is actually happening, so that we can extend our understanding and, hopefully, put it to practical use, we’ll make progress from day one. The concept of ‘inspiration’ versus ‘craft’ has cropped up a number of times on here when I’ve been involved in discussions with other composers and musicologists. The word inevitably takes on a different meaning when it’s allied to beliefs.
Of course, when people refer to their ‘faith’ or their ‘belief’ it’s a stop-all argument unless we say ‘but what if there isn’t a God’ which takes us back to square one. But we have to ask the question because we don’t know. We really don’t.
I’d prefer to keep my religious (and political) opinions out of the band room, where they have no place, but I fervently believe in Christian principles without which I believe civilization is doomed.
The one aspect above all others I cherish is the emphasis on humility, which is very important to anyone, in any field of endeavour, if they expect to progress. Unfortunately, as we all witness the divisions in the Church regarding, for example, the role of women in the clergy, we find that those who should know better are the worst offenders. Religious leaders become so convinced in the rightness of their cause they effectively banish all opposition. Whenever we align ourselves with closed-system ideologies, the ‘isms’, we advertise our own mediocrity. Unfortunately, many intelligent, well read and educated people are guilty of this.
Terrorists somehow think themselves into a state of mind that justifies killing and maiming innocent men, women and children. But some terrorists are highly intelligent. The French, who are sometimes accused of being too intellectual, decided that the only solution to the inequalities of the time was to behead all the aristocracy! My grandfather was born in Yorkshire, the English capital of common sense, and often used to say ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk’. Not surprisingly, he was a brass band fanatic.
So what’s this all about? Why am I, a musician, going this route?
This is why. I recently cancelled my membership of a composers’ forum. I tend to wander, in my replies to a post, away from the exact nature of the topic. Not too far, and I always beat a retreat when I can see the thread going off the rails. You see, it’s human nature to compartmentalize our thinking because it helps us to deal with everyday realities such as ‘right/wrong’ ‘true/untrue’ etc. Unfortunately, as any scientist knows, it’s impossible to be so precise. A theory can never be proven. It remains in place until we modify it or, sometimes, abandon it altogether. Not only that, a blinkered approach will stunt our development. Albert Einstein always warned against this.
But this wasn’t the main problem. I received a post from the moderator that I should keep my replies relevant and when I tried to defend myself I received another warning that any more irrelevant posts would be deleted. Both comments from the moderator were in bold type which should be avoided in forums because of its apparently hostile intent. It’s very easy to attack people long-range either through the anonymity of the internet or by phone. I avoid comments I’d be unprepared to make man-to-man.
In other words I’d been publicly humiliated and barred from a public defence.
Back to humility…
Too many of the contributors to forums adopt a pompous, self-regarding stance. I have a monumental work by one of the foremost mathematical physicists alive. One of the greatest ever, in my opinion. The modesty and humility of this man becomes evident by his use of his name, pure and simple, on the cover of his book. He could use a string of letters after his name but he prefers to allow his reputation to precede him. Try telling him that you’re certain of anything and you’ll probably receive a wry glance in return.
Humility is especially important to a musician. Many begin their lives convinced of their own genius but, as they encounter more and more talented people, they slowly come to realize, and grudgingly accept, their place in the scheme of things. Young musicians, especially, are worth watching. Whatever they lack in experience they more than make up for with their fresh ideas. As a friend and contemporary of mine commented a few years ago ‘they start where we leave off’. (And he’s one of the best trombonists I ever sat next to.)
I have a special interest in all this and I believe (for what it’s worth!) that people with a keenly held personal agenda identify their beliefs with themselves so that, if you attack the belief, you attack the person, too. This is why history is made by minorities, not the moderate majority.
So am I pleased with myself about resigning the forum (which shall remain nameless)? We’ll see. I began to think I resembled the small boy who picked the ball up and stomped home when he wasn’t allowed to win.
Time will tell. It’s only a forum, anyway, and what’s that in the great scheme of things?