It’s true, Vivaldi‘s the dude behind my initial decision to learn a musical instrument.
Recently pondering on the movers and shakers of my life, I’ve been left wondering how many other wannabe violin virtuosos Vivaldi must has spawned.
And, conversely, how many misguided career choices. We’ve all heard of people who were compelled in childhood to take up an instrument for the wrong reasons, usually because of parental vanity, or even sibling rivalry, where ambition and competitiveness motivate a “future music star”.
Resulting usually in excellence matched with soullessness. American Idol material.
So the question is: if you’re following a star, to which galaxy does it belong? Your parents’? The music industry’s? Your own? Since we’re here to consider the “right reasons” to take up a life in music, let’s have look at what star just might be worth following to begin with.
on getting the sacred fire
If I’m not mistaken, in any youngster’s life, the intense desire to learn an instrument usually starts with a “sacred fire” type incident. I’ve had mine, you’ve no doubt had yours. A lot of musicians I know remember the exact moment when they decided: “That’s it! I must learn to do this (or else live a life of quiet desperation)”!
“To do this“, referring to a sacred mission of learning an instrument – a most enviable skill – and playing that amazing music.
My point: as a rule, this intense yearning starts with the performance of a specific piece of music. Beyond the anecdotal, it’s the meaning of that moment of “vocational calling” that interests me, in terms of its core educational value. And for lack of a better term, I will refer to the impact of this decisive experience on a young musician as a “Musical Archetype”.
all the things you are, and destined to become
What is a “Musical Archetype”? In other spheres of culture, the same phenomenon is known as Great Art, Great Literature, or even “Great Lives”, in the sense of having an inspiring biography.
In educational terms, your archetypal piece – or set of pieces – will set up the emotional and imaginative ground rules for your long-term musical goals.
You may have guessed: my inspiration is somewhat Jungian. In the vein of Jungian Archetypes, the concept of “Musical Archetype” expresses – as a rule – how key musical experiences can expand one’s sense of self beyond the narrow practical view of the everyday self, into a more profound and timeless, experience of life – imaginative, trans-historical, cultural, even tragic or heroic.
In social terms, this “expanded sense of self” can be understood as the total musical career of a successful individual. Indeed, the most successful musicians are completely identified with their Musical Archetype, as for example, Glenn Gould with Bach’s Golberg Variations: one and the same.
the golden rule
In this way, the emotional and imaginative “ground rules” laid down by a Musical Archetype are the “golden rule” of my music pedagogy.
Stated simply: if you had only one piece to learn on your instrument, which one would it be? Or: what piece of music must you learn to play – and on which instrument – before reaching your deathbed?
Second, having mastered it, where and to whom must you perform it?
And with this overarching goal in mind, how will you focus on all the technical issues that arise as you learn to play your instrument? Who will you seek out as a mentor, to help you on your way to reaching your musical goals? What kinds of support will you need to successfully pursue this lifestyle?
and there’s a twist…
The concept of “Musical Archetype” is perhaps a new way of restating that classic question of a musician’s core mission and aspirations in life. Amateur or professional. In fact, whether you’ve had your own “sacred fire” moment or not, what matters the most is that you should have a Musical Archetype to guide your purpose, as a constantly evolving musician.
But here’s where the concept of “Musical Archetype” ups the ante: if, for whatever reason, you don’t manage to become a musician and carry on your musical mission, you nevertheless have made a major discovery about yourself by experiencing this great piece of music, your Musical Archetype.
hear for your self
Now for a couple examples from my life. In my case, it seems the archetypal pieces themselves have varied with the instrument. In the two example I’d like to share, both pieces are considered magisterial in their spheres (hmm, what does that tell you about me … whatever the case, both pieces do tell great stories).
For the violin: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Here’s a performance of the Four Seasons by superstar Nigel Kennedy – worth seeing for the camerawork, too! (Click on the Youtube logo at the bottom right hand of the video to open the clip in a separate window and gain access to the other parts of this performance)
For the guitar: Bach’s Chaconne. By Japanese classical guitar whiz Kaori Muraji. (Click on the Youtube logo at the bottom right hand of the video to open the clip in a separate window and gain access to the second part of this performance)
why Vivaldi made me do it
In summary: a Musical Archetype is a piece of music which encapsulates the full flowering of the genre you feel closely identified with as a musician, the complete realization of a vision or vocation for music as a way of life.
As a “personal golden rule”, a Musical Archetype is the unique vision of life that a great performance of a great piece of music expresses, better than you ever could by any other means, and which deeply resonates with you, guiding personal self-transformation.
My learning formula, in a nuthshell: which piece of music, which performance and which performer best express – as Martin Luther King put it – the content of your character, whether as a child or as an adult (preferably both!)?
When you find your Musical Archetype, you will have your true emotional and spiritual reason for taking up music.