Sunday, April 04, 2010

In the Company of Music

When I first started in a small Suzuki-like violin programme, I remember someone telling my mother that it was a good move as kids who stick in the programme don't end up in bad company later on. I think the actual words were along the lines of "how many violent kids do you know who play the violin?"

(Ironically, I ended up playing the viola. But that's another story.)

There's an interesting perspective to that though. That there are people who get their kids enrolled in music programmes not just for the intellectual development or just the enjoyment of sound - but because of a kind of culture that it promotes. That music kids are good kids.

The societal dynamics of how that goes on beyond childhood is entirely a new matter, of course. In the States you have high school students who proudly wear jerseys with orchestra badges, to in a way match the young American football stars with jerseys of their own. In Penang about eight years ago, there was a whole debate as to whether playing in an orchestra should be counted alongside the Scouts, karate teams, and most interestingly school bands - in the end, is the definition of a "uniformed body" simply being part of a something that promotes teamwork and hard work.

In the end, there is a kind of exclusion - being a "cool" scout patrol leader commanding his group of 15 devout followers - that somehow didn't quite apply to someone being able to play Bach from memory. I think sometimes the backlash is a created sense of elitism. That a young student grasps and displays musical initials like "ATCL" up in order to match someone else's "ATL". And in the end we lose sight of the larger picture that it matters less if you are indeed an Associate of the Trinity College of Music or an Assistant Troop Leader than what you do with the skills you possess. When I took Penang Free School's 1st Georgetown South Troop up on a camping trip, I decided to perch myself on a tree and observe, and noted a scout leader go round trying to help the loners get better integrated to the rest of the team. And at that point it didn't matter to me what initials he had before or after his name - or in a different perspective, I'm glad he soon gained the letters ATL which I think he certainly lived up to.

We in music are challenged every day to live up to these ideals of a team that is a right place for good kids that grow up to be good adults. We are challenged by those among us who actively work to break up that idea and that ideal, like those who created this blog with what seems to the the sole intent of ignorantly insulting others in the comments section. And to add cowardice to maliciousness, to do so anonymously, not taking responsibility for one's words.

At times like these I am reminded to value the times when musicians do act in ways which help their fellow man, even if it's just what to do in the break time of a long and tiring orchestra rehearsal:

It reminds me that we always have choices, small ones and big ones, and those choices make up for one's true value - one's true measure.

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