Me, Miró, and Ma – Part 2
This is a continuation of Part 1.
As anyone reading could probably guess, I speak quite passionately about art. Though this has always been the case, this is especially true now because of where I am as a composer, both musically, and, more broadly speaking, in life.
Having finished my Master’s degree and experienced the incredibly-saturated musical life that London has to offer, I returned home to Minnesota with the goal of internalizing my newly-acquired knowledge. I wanted to take all that I knew and make it something I felt. Why? To be able to speak freely.
It may seem like a small thing, but for a creative artist, actually feeling like you’re able to say what you’re trying to say is nothing short of a miracle.
Ira Glass states it in a most beautifully-human way.
(I’m not sure how long it took him to ‘figure it out’ but I think I could give him a run for his money in terms of who took longest.)
I think figuring out how to say what you want is especially difficult for composers because of how far they are (typically) removed from the end product. Composer Dai Fujikura explains this brilliantly at 2:36 (though I do recommend watching the whole 4-minute video).
But sorting out the technical issues, internalizing that knowledge, and consequently refining your voice is just one side of an artist’s development. At some point you really have to look outside of yourself and consider the culture you inhabit and your role within it.
In a recent interview with All Things Strings, cellist Yo Yo Ma discussed just this:
Culture is kind of like a living seed and it can grow in places that are not fertile . . . . Gardens are not just existent in nature, but somehow there’s a human element of tending it, caring for, of enriching, of selecting.
And then, of course, the garden is there to be enjoyed, to be used, to be part of people’s lives in different times and seasons. To me, it is the ultimate metaphor for culture. And for culture, I would say, what we tend in our human garden is probably things like the arts, the sciences, and philosophy.
(Though prompted by mention of a real garden, I find it fascinating that, like Miró, Ma chose to use the garden as a metaphor in a discussion about art.)
Ma goes on, “I’ve been thinking of these things because I’ve always wondered, what is music for?” It may not seem like much, but for anyone who has dedicated a life’s worth of work to trying to create music, that question has profound implications.
Dozens and dozens more questions follow as Ma traces his line of thought, touching on intonation, transcendence, fear, and eventually love:
Loving something implies going outside yourself and fear means retreating into yourself. I’m scared. Well, go back into yourself. That’s a metaphor for societal fears when a whole people are scared of something that they can’t control and sort of hits them, what do they do? It becomes more tight, they will make much, much more conservative decisions. The counteracting of that is culture.
Though the entire interview is full of brilliant insights, I find this particular excerpt especially striking because of how clearly it captures a tendency that influences just about every interaction we have with the world. Not only that, it sheds light on how artists can have an impact that goes beyond the personal, theoretical, or artistic — and even beyond direct activism — to reach broad philosophical significance. This may sound lofty and completely removed from the substance of day-to-day life, but it is actually one with it: How we think transcends topic and situation, framing every action of our lives.
When viewed in this light, the broad social value (and at least one answer to Ma’s “what is music for?” question) becomes apparent. Finding ways to get past fears and prejudices is vitally important. Taking these steps requires empathy. Empathy takes work — a lot of it. Unfortunately, many of us are often too busy and tired to put that work in. Art can allow us to practice empathy through play and fantasy thus enlivening and empowering us to do so in life. What else can provide such an appealing path towards a more open and understanding society?
So what about the titular connection? Well, having spent the past year and a half internalizing, questioning, and “working like a gardener” (Miró), I finally have something that is there “to be enjoyed, to be used, to be part of people’s lives in different times and seasons” (Ma). My hope is that it can help counteract fear-based conservatism and encourage curiosity and empathy, even if only for a short while.
Getting away from the abstract, it’ll soon be time to share this new work. Four scores are done. Four more will get there in a matter of weeks (including a set of piano pieces written for some of my Indiegogo contributors!). These eight pieces account for over an hour’s worth of music. All will be published and eventually recorded…but more on that later.
Thank you for the love, support, and patience.
Stay tuned. Stay connected.