Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Small Flame in a Terrible Wind

This morning while I was warming myself over from watching my daughter's ski lesson, I read an article by a theatre and opera director named Peter Sellars in this month's magazine of the American Symphony Orchestra League. The article was a reprint of his address to the League's 61st conference. Sellars illustrated throughout how important it is to make each piece we present and perform new and relevant everyday, as if Beethoven himself were conducting your Ninth, or Copland your Appalachian Spring. He made the point that these pieces were written as an act of conscience, and that their messages are as important and applicable today as they were the day the first note was played in public.

In that way, he notes, attending a symphony concert is not just an act of leisure -- in fact, it never should be. It's a call to action if we're to remain true to the intent with which some pieces were written.

When we come to the music that means so much to each of us, we come to it because it answers a need within us. No matter how old a particular tune or bluegrass song, it is as if it's new to us, and each performance brings it alive in the tradition it was created. Something about it allows us to connect with something about ourselves that helps us understand our place in the world and helps us to develop a perspective on that world and how it affects us. Because we cherish it and we know that it has meaning beyond what it means to us, we try to find ways to share it with others.

In the last couple of days I heard from two working musicians in Nashville who wrote to thank me for something I'd written about them here. These two artists owe me no thanks at all, because they have devoted their careers and their lives to creating and sharing music that enriches the lives of all of us. When I write about them or any of the many hundreds of other lesser and greater known bluegrass and traditional musicians, I'm doing what I can to keep that little flame from blowing out in the terrible wind of our times, times so busy and so distressing that it's enough to blow us all away. Between the war, the economy, the lack of leadership in our nation, the bleak condition of education, the state of youth and communities, it's a pretty tough time. Music can be a part of how we reckon all of the things that affect us. And that's why this blog is here, so that in passing by here you might be introduced to some of the folks writing beautiful, simple, accessible music of our times.

This Sunday, give some thought to the little flame you keep. What is it, and what does it mean to you now? What would you do to see that it's still here 20 years from now? If not music, then perhaps poetry, photography, teaching, or some other passion.

Here is a clip featuring a few guys that have kept their flame alive a long time. The Oak Ridge Boys perform "John in the Jordan" on Jerry Salley's new release, New Songs, Old Friends.

John in the Jordan

Have a good week.

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