I believe in the community of music. In an effort to expand on that simple statement, I looked up “community” using my word processor’s thesaurus, and it offered me three synonyms: “group of people,” “neighborhood,” and “kinship.” I believe that the ability to make music creates close-knit communities of all three types.
The most obvious community of music is that in which I have claimed membership for almost thirty years. As an avid, if somewhat pedestrian, amateur ‘cellist, I have performed classical music in symphony orchestras since my teenage years. For two-and-a-half hours a week in rehearsal with other like-minded musicians, usually for five or six weeks at a time, I practice and polish, fine-tune and explore the nuances that are represented by a seemingly overwhelming collection of dots and lines on the page. Fifty or sixty musicians play twenty or twenty-five different parts, and yet those many voices come together to create one coherent thought. Being a part of that unified voice, rather than being one of a cacophony of individual voices, is both amazing and humbling.
I also believe in the community of music as a neighborhood. Not necessarily a geographical neighborhood, but a literal one, nonetheless. Those of us who perform any kind of music – instrumental, choral, classical, contemporary, sacred, or spiritual – have all attended a concert as part of the audience and recognized an acquaintance or friend or fellow musician among the performers. Call it guilt by association if you like, but even without an instrument in my hand, my membership in this neighborhood of music transforms me from being a passive listener into being an active one. If I feel engaged in the performance, I become, in a way, one of the performers.
The strongest power of the community of music lies in the connotation of community as kinship. For me, this relationship is the most powerful and personally fulfilling because it is not restricted to the here and now. My first inklings of this kinship came as I performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony several years ago with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra. The realization that I was helping to create music that Beethoven himself conducted offered me a connection with almost two centuries of musicians who have play and sung the same music, and with the composer himself. This time-transcending kinship imbues in me a sense of responsibility to my musical predecessors – to maintain the standard which they set in playing this music for the first time – and to my musical descendents – to inspire them to become part of this community and to perpetuate the tradition.
I’ve recently rediscovered this powerful community, this kinship through music, in a personal musical renaissance. Thirty years after my first ‘cello lesson, I started to study the French horn. I now play it in the brass band of the Moravian church I joined four years ago. The Moravians have a long-established tradition of brass music in their history, and the opportunity to be a part of that tradition draws me as compellingly as playing Beethoven or Berlioz or Schubert does to the symphony orchestra. When the church band gathers on Easter morning or Christmas Eve, or just about any Sunday during the year, we play music that has been performed for centuries by other Moravian brass bands. This connection with our musical ancestors is palpable and humbling, and our recognition of it strengthens our affinities for one another as well. This kinship is for me one of the most compelling reasons to be a musician.
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