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Honors Recital Address

May 23, 2012

The following is the address delivered to the School of Music at the Awards Recital on May 9, 2012

You have now completed your studies or at least another year in your studies of music at the undergraduate level. The subject of your study is not an easy one to come to terms with. Your music professors have tried during these years to describe the indescribable, demystify the mystifying, explain the inexplicable. But try as we might, the simple truth is just as many have said: Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Surely he was thinking of music when Shakespeare told us “there are things in heaven and earth not dreamt of in your philosophies.”

Why music? When you think about the inventions of early man, they all have an immediately accessible utility. Fire? Keeps us warm. The wheel? Moves things, including us, from place to place. The hoe, the knife, the arrowhead? Protects us and feeds us. But music? Why would early man take time from hunting and gathering—from trying to survive, to sing? To make music? Why craft a reed to play on when a spear to hunt with would serve a more obvious need?  It was not as if any early man said, “the lion jumped out of the bush at me but two major scales and a triad had him under control” or “I was really hungry but this interesting melody I developed did the trick.”

No, the power of and the need for music is simply ineffable.  Inexplicably, it is as necessary for survival for most of us as food and water. Take a moment to imagine a world without music. I defy you to be able to pull this trick off. Imagine a world with no music. No Bach, no Mozart, no Brahms, no Puccini. Imagine a world with no Lady Gaga—okay that may be easier than we think—but you get the point. We can’t even imagine a movie without a score much less a world without music.

Music addresses a need in us as palpable as hunger, as desperate as thirst and as real as any of the needs on Maslow’s scale. And it has been addressing those needs since the dawn of life. Your teachers here knew that need and, like you, they spent years honing their skills and studying their art. They lead remarkable, multi-faceted careers because of their dedication to music.

But John F Kennedy said, “the torch has been passed to a new generation.” That generation is you. It is up to you to nurture, to heal, to teach, to challenge, to lead us through your music. And make no mistake—the world needs you to do so in the same way we need doctors and lawyers and teachers to do their good work. You don’t have the opportunity to make the world a better place with your music, you have the obligation to do so.

The Sufi mystic, Rumi wrote:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.

Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading

—take down a musical instrument

Let the Beauty we love be what we do

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Let’s hear that again:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.

Written eight hundred years ago, that sounds like today—like this morning—to me.

Do not open the door to the study and begin reading—take down a musical instrument

You’ve just spent one or two or four or five years through the door of the study. Go forth with your musical instrument—whether that instrument comes in a case or on wheels or inside your own body. And here’s the important part:

Let the Beauty we love be what we do.

This is the greatest wish I could have for you—for each of you: That the beauty you love is what you do.  I’ve had some interesting jobs as I worked my way through school and life. It’s probably no surprise that I taught public school or played or sang or acted in all types of gigs or conducted more ensembles than I can count, but you might be surprised to know that I ran a hardware store and waited tables and even worked at General Motors on my way to this moment. As I did those things I realized that they were definitely not the beauty I loved and that, to be truly fulfilled, my life would have to be completely immersed in the magic “undreamt of in our philosophies.”

You may do some interesting and even strange jobs on your way to the real you as well. And I hope they remind you that the ultimate goal is to be one of those lucky few who can say: The beauty I love is what I do.

Today we wake up empty and frightened…

take down a musical instrument…

Let the Beauty you love be what you do.


May your life be full of that beauty and may you heed your obligation to fill the lives of others with it as well.




One Comment leave one →
  1. Chris White permalink
    May 23, 2012 9:24 am

    This is a beautiful speech: inspiring, true, far-reaching. We’re so glad you’re here.

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