lost, lungfish, music

Someone please enlighten me.

Hand to me, for instance, something that might inspire me to entirely re-create myself and my artistic vision.

I want to be an artist - I want to use my thoughts, as jumbled as they are, and put them to use. I know I have something to offer the world, or at least something to offer myself. I can feel deep inside something wanting to be said and expressed. I don't want to think too much about it, I've found that thinking more often than not solves nothing in these kinds of situations. The best thing would be to not think, but that leaves me at a loss of what to do next. Maybe being a pianist can be considered as being an artist, but I could never compare myself to, say, a visual artist, or even a composer.

The most I am is a messenger. But what particles of art are there to be found in one who spends their time conveying messages? I want to know. Should I not strive to be an artist, but rather some prophet who has dedicated an entire lifetime to painting someone else's canvas, writing someone else's novel, or even sculpting someone else's self portrait? I willingly give up my own self to convey another's self. Am I looking at this wrong? Is there even a right way to look at it, though? I can fall in love with the painting, the novel, the self, but in the end, it is not mine. I can make you see it through allie-colored glasses, I can make you hear it through my ears, feel it through my fingers and understand it through my understanding, but it is not mine. It is a warped view of someone else's creation. Who knows. Maybe their creation really wasn't that great to start with. But in most cases, their life works have been told by many different messengers in many different ways. There are even others, though I'm not sure under which category these prideful few may be put, who dedicate their entire lives to critiquing and judging from afar these varied, multi-colored interpretations of human passions.

This is not only the pianist's dilemma. Any performer who performs material that wasn't self-conceived gives themselves up to another. I don't want to be that anymore. I can appreciate Brahms, Ravel, Shostakovich, Chopin and others all I want, and they may have even dedicated their lives to putting their selves into things that can be taken and used for countless desires of a crowd of anonymous messengers, but I feel like I would be undermining my own worth by living a life in the footsteps of those I used to look up to. I'm still young, I know, and it's possible that life holds so much for me, yet. I can discover something about myself tomorrow that may change the course of my life forever. Virtually anything can happen. But in thinking of the path of my life, I see it going in the direction of... To put it plainly, something I don't want for myself.

I spent two hours today playing the piano non-stop. Not in the way that you might imagine, either. I wasn't really practicing. I "practiced" plenty yesterday, and by that I mean I played through all of my pieces one by one, countless times, until I felt like nothing more could be done that day on them in terms of improvement.

No, today I played notes... an endless series of disconnected notes, leading to nowhere, ending at a place far more lost and hopeless than I ever intended for them to go. I felt like weeping. I want to say that music has failed me, but I know that that would be a lie. I have failed music. Or at least it feels that way.

This may seem depressing, perhaps even overly so, but I haven't yet lost all hope. I am not necessarily giving up. I am, instead, forcing myself to view my situation, my talent, my path in a different way. And who better to lead me in the right direction but the visual, poetic, and musical artist Daniel Higgs? If you haven't heard of him, he is the mind behind one of my favorite musical ensembles - Lungfish. I will attempt to describe some of his ideas on this.

Music is always unfolding. In the words of an old Native American proverb, "The music never stops; it is we who walk away." So, if it always occurring, then it is not only the performer who channels it, but also the artist. The composer, the brain behind it all. Perhaps music cannot even be grasped, or if it can, that hold is only temporary. Music is like an unknown, omnipresent being we reach out to - "It is still a mystery to me as to how and where music is coming from" (Higgs). We take hold of it, attempt to control it and make it ours, then tell ourselves that it was born in our minds. How can this be true? After we die, the music lives on. It does not die with us. It lives forever. It might have even existed, in whatever form, before the concept of "time" began. Music transcends notes, staves, voices, instruments, guidelines, technology, and even history. Music, in the purest sense, is the formless shadow that existed in our minds, in the earth, and in the universe far before conceptual thought. Once we discovered it for the very first time, the pure glory of it, we wanted it to be ours, and we wanted to be able to call it ours.

Where does this tie in to anything? As a pianist, I must realize that I am also part of the audience. I may know the notes that I am to be playing, but those mean nothing compared to the vastness of the entity that is Music. What unfolds to the audience is what unfolds to me. I place my fingers at the keyboard, straighten up and think hard, and in this process I am actually contacting Music. Imagine an endless stream of colors, long thin threads of them that have no end, dangling eternally above the heads of the masses of people in the world. These colorful threads represent Music, a stream flowing soundlessly (it has sound, but maybe in it's true form we, as human beings, do not have the ability to hear it) towards an unknown point. I contact it. I grab a handful of threads and yank it down so that I have it in my hands. It is stained with the fingerprints of thousands of other people who have touched these very same threads, and finally, with the very prints of he who first conceived it. The one who first arranged this particular section of Music after his own heart. I grab it and I let it unfold in the way that only it can. I stand back and watch this magnificent revealing take place with the same amount of awe that those in the audience are, if there is an audience.

The special thing about this is that there is the incredible potentiality - meaning that it doesn't always happen this way - for the both the performer and the audience members to have an intense, private, and solitary experience with the Music being heard by all. This forms a dynamic of group solitude, with the sounds of music being a sort of psychic foundation. A framework in the air that we can feel, however briefly, and is then stamped into our minds forever.

When I look at music in this way, I feel a little better. I feel part of something greater than this endless competition to be the best messenger, the best pianist, the best conveyor of audial invisibility. Music is and never should be contained in such a small frame of mind.

Here is one of my favorite Lungfish songs, "Hear the Children Sing," off of the album Love is Love. Higgs has also stated that the repeated patterns many often say they hear in Lungfish's music aren't really patterns at all. It is impossible to repeat something infallibly, and each time something is repeated it is going to be different. This refers back to the idea of the performer being a member of the audience, and how that makes the audience a performer as well. The audience's perception of the repetitious nature of Lungfish's music is a testament to the experience they have while listening - whether it was intended or not, the fact is they responded to the music in such a way that they were able to interpret it into something they could understand and appreciate. That is how Lungfish works. You hear it, you think about it, and you just accept things as they really are. It is not as easy as it sounds.

You are the unknown in which we must trust.


  1. You know how I feel about music, but I think it boils down to what you say in the end: "The special thing about this is that there is the incredible potentiality - meaning that it doesn't always happen this way - for the both the performer and the audience members to have an intense, private, and solitary experience with the Music being heard by all. This forms a dynamic of group solitude, with the sounds of music being a sort of psychic foundation. A framework in the air that we can feel, however briefly, and is then stamped into our minds forever."
    You've got the key there, I think. The thing is, you as a performer will bring something to the table no matter what you do. Art is never complete without the interpreter. A piece of music would be useless without the element of a performer. You perceive the world in your own unique way, and in the end that's what you will leave behind with your art. Human experience is way too varied for us to understand in one lifetime. I think this is indeed the most beautiful purpose of art: it enables us to live many lives through the eyes of others. I think you should not divorce the terms "performer" and "artist".. Especially in music, the best interpretations come from a personal shaping of the music. Brahms and Beethoven and them could only go so far with pencil and paper; they were counting on people like you and your listeners to bring the wealth of human experience into it.

  2. I apologize so much Andrew, I didn't even realize I had a comment on this until now.

    "Art is never complete without the interpreter" - I think that is one of the hardest things I've had to grasp, because music seems to be a little different than mere art (traditional art, at least). The way it is "performed" is constantly changing, whereas a painting will eternally be the physical paint on canvas, and that will never change. I also think I should not divorce the terms "performer" and "artist," but sometimes it seems as though I am being judged simply on "how" I play the piece, and that annoys the hell out of me. I will admit that the wealth of human experience can bring the notes on the paper to life, and perhaps even cause the listeners, absent or present, to experience something unearthly through that. In any case, I am just a little confused about my role in the world of music, and am also a little saddened by how competitive everything is these days. Maybe that's the only way it can be.