The Musician’s Soul

I’m participating in a faculty seminar with eight other professors, each from different disciplines. We get together every other week and take turns discussing books everyone has selected from their respective disciplines. This Wednesday a music prof is leading the discussion of The Musician’s Soul by James Jordan.

Like a student, I have been procrastinating. That means I just started reading it today, Sunday*. Three days and counting. Even though I’m in the early stages, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, I’m digging it. Double J is wonderfully out of touch with the times. Instead of privileging standardization, data, and efficiency, he writes of self understanding, spirituality, and soulfulness. He’s more Buddhist than business school.

For a little flavor flav, here he is on self-expression:

“If one believes that music is self-expression, then it should follow that one must have a self to express. Before one is able to conduct and evoke artistry from singers, one must spend a considerable amount of time on oneself, on one’s inside stuff. One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times. Most musicians, however, involve themselves in a process of self-mutilation. They focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of music instead of the ‘who’. Frustration and anger with self occur, almost unknowingly. The conductor, music educator, or performer must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and of his or her own human spirit. That journey must be non-self-mutilating. At the risk of oversimplifying, one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with an ensemble or an audience through the music. Knowledge and trust of self is necessary for music making to take place. An ability to ‘just be’ is paramount.”

These insights are wonderfully applicable. Substitute any art, like writing, for the making of music. Or almost any vocation imaginable.

My subconscious is just starting to work on a new course I’m teaching next spring for teachers training to be school principals. While I’m reading Jordan I’m substituting school leaders for musicians. “The school leader must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and his or her own human spirit. . . . one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with a faculty, or families, or students through schooling.”

This portion of the larger excerpt deserves further reflection, “One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times.” Sounds more simple than it is. Most everyone has long-standing negative tapes looping in their heads thanks to mean-spirited teachers, parents, or coaches.

Do you know, accept, and trust yourself? How might your vocation and life change as a result of greater knowledge, acceptance, and trust?

* Had to finish The Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh first.

2 thoughts on “The Musician’s Soul

  1. Hey professor! This is actually the first blog I’ve involved more than thirty minutes of my life into. Indeed the arts, whether its painting, music, writing, dancing, acting, or even the martial arts, are intertwined. One thing to understand when it comes to music is that self-expression arrives at different intervals for different musicians. Being a novice to intermediate tenor saxophonist, I would say that it is more important for beginner’s to learn how to properly play their instrument, then focus on making the notes sound good, and then finally express themselves in their music.

    What’s equally important is the music that the musician chooses, as the music is an indicator of their emotional status. For my jury audition to get into the Music Ed. program, I played a piece by Mozart called “Abendemfindung,” which translates to “evening sentiment.” According to one of my professors, Mozart wrote this song after his father passed and acts as a reflection of himself, his life, and death in general. I found meaning for this song when I tied this into my own father’s passing and I felt like had a purpose for playing the song.

    Hope to hear back from you!

  2. Thanks Sam. I didn’t know you lost your father. Nice how that gave more meaning to the Mozart piece. I think I agree, fundamentals first. One colleague posed an interesting question in W’s discussion, “Do you have have to know the rules before you break them?” Most everyone thinks so, and I understand that, but I wonder if creativity may be seriously compromised if we (I’m thinking of writing as much as music) insist on complete mastery of fundamentals first.

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