OK. You’re a drummer. Let’s take stock of the situation.
You’ve got these big wooden cylinders. Across each open end you have polyester “skins” stretched. The biggest cylinder has a little contraption attached to it that allows you to slap the surface of the polyester skin with a sort of hammerhead.
Balanced on steel poles you have big plates made of brass.
You’re sitting on a little stool in front of all these objects and in your hands you are holding sticks made of hardwood.
What’s this all about? What are you trying to do here?
I understand that using the various contraptions and bashing some of the plates and polyester-covered cylinder with these sticks is part of the plan.
You’re going to hit this stuff. But why?
When I am not sure how to get someone focused in the studio I will pose questions like this.
You see, musicians are an isolated bunch. Having been a musician since I was 3, I know this intimately. We spend endless hours refining tiny muscle movements, memorizing pieces of music, repeating things over and over in their most reductionist forms so as to perfect our ability to render a great performance.
All this is done while normal people are out learning how to relate to each other.
But we musicians are obsessed. We live in this little perfectionist world. We rarely venture out.
So why do we do this? Even more to the point, why do we persist?
Why are you hitting those things? It makes a terrible racket and leaves little wooden fragments on the carpet. It scares the cat. It offends the neighbors. So what on earth are you doing?
Well, for one thing you are making music.
See, a musical instrument is a very special device. It has a unique function in the hands (or feet) of a good musician. A violin, a saxophone, a kit of drums can all do something quite marvelous: take the inner state of the musician and translate it in real time into a shared experience.
Without having to frame it in words, a great performance of music can bring to a room full of people a vivid and uncanny evocation of the physical, emotional and spiritual state of the performer. Once that music is introduced into the world, everyone within earshot is capable of picking up that stream of information and sharing the evoked experience.
Unlike a description of an emotion, music can transcend language. Unlike a painting or play, it doesn’t require direct attention on the part of the audience. They can be passive to the point of consciously ignoring the music and still be affected by it.
Whether people realize it or not, and whether they can identify the experience or not, music is highly significant in day to day experience. We derive much of our sense of who we are and how we fit together from shared experience. And no experience can be shared on as deep a level as music.
Nothing. Not even nookie.
So when we are perched next to our noisemaking machinery we are poised to do nothing less than demonstrate in the most convincing way possible that life is worth living.
Take a few minutes and listen to this:
Tell me you didn’t feel the tragedy of this woman, even if not a word of the lyrics was understood.
When we make music we prove to each other that life is worth living.