The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

There is too much anger in today’s America.  Too much anger, far too much envy and not nearly enough music.  If we took more time to listen to music we would have less time to argue our ideological positions and perhaps in listening to music we would learn to listen to each other.

We are a disparate people.  We come from different countries and cultures, we are of different races and we hold different beliefs about God or His absence.  Some of us are better looking than others and some have more money than others.  Some of us are generous and others are stingy.  Some of us are gifted athletically and others of us would rather spectate.  And some of us have had the generous benefit of having music in our lives and learned to be grateful for that blessing.  I know that music has helped me to learn to listen – not merely to the notes but to those who make the music sing.

The music which is familiar to us in the West is based on a simple diatonic scale  – far less complex than the pentatonic scale used in Oriental cultures.  That is the reason that if we listen to Chinese or Japanese music it sounds discordant to the untrained Western ear.

What is really remarkable is the number of Oriental musicians who have received training in western musicology and have become virtuosi of their respective instruments.  In order for them to achieve this they had to put aside the music with which they grew up and change their thinking and their hearing.  That is no small achievement – requiring one step beyond what we in the West must do.

Many motivational speakers use athletic examples to convey the concept of co-operation to those who have come to their seminars.  But an even better example, although not as familiar to most of us, is an orchestra.  There are no referees to make bad calls; no time outs available and no intentional fouls.  The musicians must work together in harmony, every note that they play determining whether the performance will be a successful interpretation of the score.  And at the end of the performance, the credit or criticism will fall on one person – their leader, the conductor.

An orchestra is both an example of personal involvement and humility.  Eliminate the violins or the French horns and the piece has become something less than what the composer intended.  Yet no instrument alone conveys the beauty that was written.  It is only their working together in harmony that leaves the performer and the audience with an enriching experience.

Music like the visual arts is in some respects a very personal experience.  The beauty that Van Gogh conveyed in his painting “The Starry Night” may evoke different feelings from different people who view the work.  And so it is with music.

The Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” always stirs me to think of being inside a warm and cozy home, the fireplace calmly burning as I look through the window, watching the snow blanketing the landscape and weighing heavily on the branches of the pine trees.

This performance was given by the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan and was conducted by their first music director, Lim Kek-tjiang.  Should you question the statement that “Music hath power to sooth the savage breast” note the smile on Lim’s face as he leads his orchestra in the main harmonic theme of the piece – about one and a half minutes into the performance.  That is the power of music.

We are fortunate to live in a land of such great abundance.  And yet there are so many of us who cry they don’t have enough.  As Auntie Mame put it, “Life’s a banquet – and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Perhaps that’s because too many of us don’t take the time either to smell the roses – or to stop and listen to the music.

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Comments on: "WHAT AMERICA CAN LEARN FROM A CHINESE ORCHESTRA" (5)

  1. A beautiful essay. Thanks for sharing the music. You have inspired me to sit down and spend some time on the piano today.

  2. Your point was excellently illustrated. Working together today is made difficult by our individual lack of discipline.

  3. Precisely. Consider what the Intermezzo would sound like if only one of the orchestra’s members was mis-playing his or her part.

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