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Why Bother by Molly Carr

WHY BOTHER?

 

When I was sixteen years old, I was sharing lunch at a Chinese restaurant with a close friend when he asked a humorous but pointed question: “So what you’re choosing to do with your life is essentially this: You are going to move your arms back and forth repeatedly in order to make a strip of metal wiggle, which will then cause air molecules to bump into each other. How is it that you think you can make the world a better place to live in with this?” After a lengthy discussion on the power of music, my own artistic “calling,” and the benefits of the arts to the world we live in today, we broke open the complementary fortune cookie customarily awarded with the bill and were both amused, but frankly startled, by the message we found inside, for it summarized the conclusions of our entire discussion: “Talents that are not shared are not talents.”

Since our discussion almost ten years ago, that cookie’s message has stuck with me, often pulling me back up onto the “straight and narrow” by reminding me of my purpose and calling, and shaping how I see myself and my work as an artist. So… what IS my purpose as an artist? Why IS it that I spend so much time locked away in a practice room perfecting my ability to cause air molecules to collide – and how is it that this honed ability can actually benefit mankind? I believe my purpose is to touch peoples’ hearts with the music that I make, and consequently, to spend my life in respectful and committed service to learning how best to accomplish this endeavor.

Music is words shared with exquisite inflection, and in my mind, it is the purest form of expression.  By its very nature, it can…

“…embody conflict of forces, depict interior states, suggest the infinite and invisible, encompass emotional change, mental flux, the process of becoming, with a completeness and immediacy unavailable to painting or poetry.  It avoids both literalness and pictorial imagery, communicates meaning without committing itself to specific content.”

-MacDonald, Malcolm. Brahms. New York: Schirmer Books, 1990. 32.


Indeed, music can break through and shake people from their self-absorbed, chaotic, and frequently isolated lives, soften their hearts, and enable them to recognize, feel, relate, and then even dance, sing, laugh, and cry all that they hold within but could never find a way to express,  – all without ever speaking a word.  Music is the God-given, unspoken language that holds the power to link human souls together and remind them they are not alone.

When I am able to remember this, all of the hours, days, and years I have spent in a practice room, as well as the pressure and stress involved with performing, suddenly becomes “worth it.” Unfortunately, though, this has been harder to remember than perhaps it should have been.  And looking back now, I see why: for most of my development in learning “how best to accomplish my purpose,” I have gone through frequent periods of being intensely selfish in the eternal pursuit of the unattainable perfection of my art – constantly frustrated by my shortcomings and judgmental of those who apparently did not “care” about their work to the same degree as I did. But THEN, I would alternately allow myself to think, “If the audience can’t tell, then why bother?”– a place of equal frustration and discouragement for someone who feels called to dedicate her life to the arts.

It is only very recently that I have discovered how to jump off this emotional seesaw and find a middle ground of balance and peace about my purpose and work. This has been through the realization that both of the above attitudes are actually twisted forms of arrogance.  At its core, the latter was essentially the mindset that my audiences were not worthy of my best work.  The message of the former: by taking so much energy to show the world that I was unhappy with myself, what I was actually saying was… “I’m too good for what you just heard.” Any performance played with this attitude will cause an audience to take its focus off of experiencing the power of the music and all it has to offer, and instead put that focus on ME.  Strangely, it would seem that if one succumbed to the humbling realization that any artist is only human – a mere work in progress with the ability to do only his or her best in the moment – that one would end up opening a door to mediocrity and failure. But this realization actually has had the opposite effect.  By “giving in,” and recognizing that stumbling and struggling in the practice room as well as on the stage is part of the creative process along with experiencing the times of pure joy and love for music, I have been able to release myself (and my audiences!) from the “distraction of myself” and have instead begun to focus all of my creative power on the goal of living, enjoying, and giving the gift of music – and consequently, on striving to reach my full potential as an artist!  I believe that when my work is at its most honest, honed, and dedicated it has a greater potential to make a difference in the soul of the person who experiences it.  I am happy to say I am starting to live and work in a way that retains respect for my listeners while remaining true to myself and my artistic calling.

So again, how is it I can benefit society through an elusive art form?  I can become a vehicle for the divine gift and link that is called music, penetrating and ministering to people’s hearts.  This is how I want to spend my life: in joyful appreciation of the gift I have been given and committed service to sharing my talents and learning how best to speak that wordless language which knows no social boundaries – respectfully speaking with music what God has blessed me with the voice to say.

 


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