Monday, March 09, 2009

Living the Music, Saving Lives

In addition to looking at the world of the piano in ensemble, one of the missions of this blog has always been to celebrate the core experiences that create meaning in a life spent in the pursuit of music. And no other article or essay in my recent memory has come close to the power of the words of Karl Paulnack's now-legendary address to the incoming freshman class of the Boston Conservatory, in which he speaks about the importance of music in the inner lives of individuals. 

To put it bluntly, if you are a musician, you must read Karl's address. It may very well save your sanity in the difficult and often demoralizing life of the professional musician. And among the many places you can read Karl's article online, I would recommend that you visit its home on the website of the Columbus Symphony Musicians, a group of individuals who have weathered much difficulty in the last while in their pursuit of the continued presence of orchestral music in Columbus, Ohio.

The parting words of Karl's speech:

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.

(Via Rachel Velarde (@rachelvelarde on Twitter))

[Update: The speech was originally given in 2004, although its text only went viral in the last few months. (Thanks, Melodie!)]

Previously on the Collaborative Piano Blog:


  1. Chris,

    Just this short excerpt from the speech brought tears to my eyes. I have known that I am a healer (through music as well as through more 'traditional', well, not-so-traditional means) for many years. I am so thrilled to hear a professional musician say these words out loud to some of the young 'uns just opening their eyes and ears to the world. It gives me hope.

    I have just discovered your blog and I am savoring the time I am spending, reading goodies. Your 31-part series on practicing is being imparted to my students (and absorbed for myself) on a daily basis.

    Thanks for everything you are sharing.

    I have just started my own first blog and after boldly setting it up I had backed way off in overwhelm and shyness. After reading this, I'm leaping back in.

    Thanks, darlin', for this great blog!
    Yer fan in Oregon,
    Kathy G