Matt's blog

The story of me, an American in Edinburgh, Scotland finding my place as a musician, a husband, a father and a Christian.


Music, Empyrean, etc...

Hey, here's a post! I've had a lot on my mind lately (as I'm sure my beautiful wife would be glad to testify to) and I don't know if I'll really be able to express it really well on the ol' blog, but here goes.

Umm, yeah, this is going just about as well as I thought it would. Anyway, I'll start over. (Start over? You never really started the first time!)

I need to figure out how to be happy with who I am. I get this idea in my head sometimes that I want to be this independent, counter-cultural romantic hero who transcends the ordinariness of this life and makes himself into something something larger, something better, something other than everything that is. Yeah, I don't really ask for much from myself.

Eckart Preu, the conductor of the Spokane symphony came to give a short talk at Whitworth this week. In it, he spoke about the importance of scholarship in music. He said that a performance is worthless if you don't know what the composer's intentions were, what the practices of the time where, etc, and then base your performance on that knowledge. The performance should not be based on the performer's personal musical agenda, but on the facts of the music. He also said that the most frustrating thing to him as a conductor was auditioning players for the symphony who played perfectly but without and love for the music, without any personal passion.

This threw me at first. It seemed like he wanted two completely contradictory things from his performers. He went on, though, and said something like this: You don't need to try to give the music you play your personal stylistic stamp; simply because you are the person playing it will show your personality if you are just honest with yourself. Of course, he worded it differently and said it with a cool German accent.

You can probably imagine what this has to do with learning to accept myself for who I am. I will never be that romantic hero I want myself to be. However, I think that if I take an honest look at myself I'll find that I am already a subversive, counter-cultural revolutionary in my own quiet, un-sensational way. Simply by being myself I change the world around me. I don't shock and awe, but I don't really want to. I think, and I'm not being funny here, I just want people to recognize my inherent awesomeness/awesomnity.

But why should I want that? Moses was one of the greatest leaders God's people ever had, but he had to wander around in the desert for 40 years and never even got to set foot in the promised land. What about Jesus? What did he get? Did he get the society at large to recognize him awesomeness and lift him up as a hero? Why do I deserve more than Moses or Jesus?

Recently I've been doubting my calling as a musician because I don't seem to measure up to the musicians I have been surrounded with. As part of my Church Music degree, I am now taking Choral Techniques, a 400 level course focused on, you guessed it, leading a choir. I have not taken a single voice lesson in my life. Here in my senior year, where I feel I should be taking classes that really specialize in honing the skills I've developed over the last several years, I have found myself instead taking a class in a subject about which I am completely ignorant. Almost all the other students in the class are singers who have been singing for years and came out of high schools with great choir programs. I came out of a high school twice the size of Whitworth with one full time music teacher to lead the marching band. I started playing classical guitar, my area of emphasis, in college. I had never had any formal musical education before I was 21 years old.

This situation has made me feel inadequate. It made me feel like a musical philistine, an unfortunate victim of the death of the arts in America.

In case you haven't heard me make the statement before, let me say again that the guitar is the bastard child of the classical music world. It is hard to play, it is hard to write for, it is quiet, it is not well suited to accompaniment, it is not well suited to melody, it is played poorly by many and played well only by a few. So why is it still around? It's beautiful. The guitar has stayed alive for only one reason, just like the french horn: it is difficult to play well, but when played well it is extremely moving.

So what am I? I'm a guitarist. I'm a pretty good one, too. There's a bit of revolutionary right there, just a little bit, but that's all I need.

Surrounded by singers, people who have for the most part spent much more of their lives than I have on honing their craft, I feel like an inadequate musician. However, surround me with guitarists and it's a different story.

We had the first meeting last night of a monthly classical guitar group at the Empyrean downtown which I mentioned a few posts back. It felt great. I got to play some Bach, some Villa-Lobos, and I didn't have to give a rip about the musical establishment. How many oboe players get the chance to do that. I guess if I'm going to be counter-cultural, I can't fall into the trap of being a-cultural. People, myself included even though I don't like to admit it, are social animals and need some sort of support group. When it's just Matt the guitarist vs. the ravenous hordes of singers, my life starts to suck. But when I've got my own little band of fellow musical bastards, life is good.

A note on the Empyrean: Go There. This place is cool and Spokane needs places like this. Last time I wrote about the crackhead convention that was meeting just outside their front door, but that has not been the case any other time I have been there. The place is really worth going to if you're fed up with the cattle-in-a-chute feeling of Starbucks or the I'm-far-too-cool-to-be-breathing-the-same-air-as-you feeling of most of Spokane's other independent coffee places. (A note within a note: Encore right by Whitworth is excluded from the above derogatory comment, they've become quite a cool place in the last year or two.)

The next guitar night at the Empyrean will be the third Thursday of November. Be there and be a bastard! That's all for now.

2 Responses to “Music, Empyrean, etc...”

  1. # Anonymous jeni

    Cool post.  

  2. # Anonymous BSUID=1; KIDYMD=#211958:EKAA#207671:EJ`C#198205:EJZA#209494:EJYA#; WIDYMD=#30560:EKA#; FRQSTR=188479

    ya, i like it. you know, you're right about guitar and french horn. very difficult to play well. of course, a lot more people think they can play guitar than french horn. if you can't play the horn, you don't try. every idiot wants to play the guitar! kind of like singing, that. everyone thinks they can sing.

    anyway, don't be hard on yourself, just keep going. you'll get somewhere.  

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