Karl Paulnack to the Boston Conservatory Freshman Class

Dr. Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at The Boston Conservatory, gave this fantastic welcome address to the  parents of incoming students at The Boston Conservatory on September 1, 2004:

Karl Paulnack

Karl Paulnack

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, “you’re wasting your SAT scores!” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they loved music: they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

One of the first cultures to articulate how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you: the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940 and imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose, and fortunate to have musician colleagues in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist. Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the Nazi camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother with music? And yet-even from the concentration camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

In September of 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. On the morning of September 12, 2001 I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, on the very evening of September 11th, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

Very few of you have ever been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but with few exceptions there is some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks. Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in a small Midwestern town a few years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. The concert in the nursing home was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

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 cars. 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.”

____

March 25, 2009

After posting this speech to our blog, we had the pleasure of hearing from Karl. He wrote, “I’m SO honored to be on the From the Top site.  I love the show, and I actually met Chris O’Riley many moons ago. I’m amazed at the number of people this has reached (I gave it as a talk to the parents of incoming freshmen in 2004) but I’m glad that so many have found it useful.”

To hear more from Karl on the importance of music, listen to his talk “How Music Works”, delivered at the Arlington Street Church in Boston, MA.

69 Responses

  1. What a wonderful speech!
    I wish I was so smart like this to give such an intelligent moving speech.
    As a singer I deeply feel what I sing or I have trouble singing it.
    This is flying around the world and being shared by a lot of musicians.
    Thank you so much for posting it
    This is so important!!!

  2. Fantastic!!
    Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

    As a former school teacher at every level from elementary to graduate school and as a former High School principal who had to fight against budget cuts in the area of arts, this should be legally required reading for EVERY school board in America!!

    • Dear Sydney,
      This has been a mantra of mine for years, as a painter. The arts (music & painting) are just as important as the three R’s. They make the person whole and have the ability to go through life living it to the highest level they can. We cannot allow future generations to reach adulthood with out having art & music as part of their education.

    • Mr. King,
      What you have said is exactly what I was thinking as I was reading this article, and the speech was brilliant! I will be sure to share this with my county arts lead, superintendent and my family. Thank you for such an inspiring article.

  3. I linked to this on my blog, and am recommending it to everyone I know. How perfect.

  4. I am so touched, motivated, and I am sending this link to my best friends to share this hi positive energy thought, it’s contagious! Thank you so much for sharing.

    Beatriz Américo

  5. Thank you for offering us an extraordinarily well crafted and important message about the value of music and all of the arts.

  6. I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of music and dance in traditional African culture. It’s not just entertainment, it’s religion, philosophy, survival — it’s life and it can’t be separated out or cut from a budget.

    I was thinking, “how can a rhythmic phrase played on a drum have so much gravitas.” — this speech certainly answered my question and has given me the belief in myself to carry on even though my society doesn’t ‘get it’. Thank Mr. Paulnack.

  7. This Post, and even more so listening to Mr. Paulnack’s talk at the Arlington St. Church brought me to tears. FIRST of all, because it seems like modern people take Music so much for granted. SECOND of all, because of all the musically talented people who no longer make use of their gift. Or (as was the case with me) not having the opportunity to learn Music in the first place. But I did marry a talented pianist. And I have two very musical sons, one of which is a talented violinist in the New England Conservatory Prep Program. Happily, the Music Torch burns bright at our house!

  8. [...] Resurfaced: Karl Paulnack gave an address in 2004 to Boston Conservancy freshmen that touched on the meaning of music and art, war and peace, and his experiences in Manhattan on 9/11. It was recently reposted on a blog dedicated to young classical musicians. [From the Top] [...]

  9. [...] MUSIC MATTERS Why music matters. Published [...]

  10. [...] today, a friend just sent me a link to an incredible essayby Karl Paulnack on this subject. Better than I ever could, this piece sums up why music matters and [...]

  11. This was one of the best speeches I have ever read. It spoke to my heart!

    I am a college professor of neuroscience. Like many of our kind who grew up in the 70’s, I didn’t want to go to college, but rather pursue a career in music. I was in bands in the 70’s and 80’s playing Prog Rock to the likes of YES and Genesis – and Jazz-Rock fusion (not very marketable these days). I knew I it had what it takes. Or did I?

    My folks wouldn’t pay for a college education if I majored in music. So, I majored in psychology to figure it all out, and said to myself ” self- I’ll show them.. If its academics they want me to pursue, I am going all out and getting a doctorate”. I did – in 1990, got married, and then did a post-doc at Johns Hopkins. I now teach at a four year liberal arts college in NH since 1992.

    Why do I say all this? I have never – ever put down my electric bass and can count the days I haven’t played it over the years on both hands… Even on vacation I bring along my acoustic and find that the environment (beach, mountains, city) all impact my playing.

    My Rickenbacker bass became my best friend through college and graduate school… It was my therapy… in good times and bad… To me, bad playing was always better than not playing at all because something was learned in the process.

    In 2001 I got a call from a friend in a cover band to fill in for their bassist. I did and there was no turning back.. I got the bug to perform again… I ended up in a 10-piece showband and played out two weekends every month… When my mom died in 03, it was the music that got me through it all. I even played a Bach piece during the funeral mass.. Just the bass which then was gradually followed by the majestic church pipe organ in the choir loft.. I had goosebumps and felt my mother’s presence at that moment. I could feel her pride about how my life turned out.. I have it all and the best of both worlds… As a scientist, the scientific method is no different than composition.. In science, the more known from the literature breeds good testable theory.. In music.. the more I listen to extends my musical vocabulary. I am musically illiterate – I can’t read a note and play it.. But I learned much about music theory and love testing ideas…

    Point: music is part of my being… My bass is an extension of me. I have wondered the same… “whats it all about? why is music so mystical to the non-musician” I can’t even begin to comprehend not being able to play a musical instrument…

    “I know its only Rock and Roll, but I like it – like it… yes I do..”

    JoTro

  12. Yes, the Greeks articulated what they knew about music. But they were far from the first to understand music’s power. Africans, from the beginning, perhaps even before speech evolved, used music for all human activity. Rhythms and songs for work, celebrating, and mourning have existed there for thousands of years. Give the Greeks their due, but don’t neglect histories other than those of the so called “West.”

  13. This piece resonated deeply within , as if it was music itself, and reminded me of the immeasurable power and need of music to life … like the power of the sea or a vvolcano.

    it also made me aware of our, (society) lack of understanding of this power and purpose , and therefore the lack of value placed on it

    thank you for reconnecting me to this knowledge

  14. I read the letter as was really moved, for those of us who are not musical, it is wonderful and brought tears to my eyes and I agree that maybe the arts and music can be the being that brings us peace, hope and, understanding.

  15. I just read this post on a friend’s site, and was immensely moved , to tears. We lost our precious son on 9/11 at the WTC. Among other things he did, besides being an equities trader, he was an accomplished trumpeter. We turn to music to help us with our feelings, to heal us, to help us keep moving. Nothing will mend us, but music helps in small and large ways. I had no idea that Karl was in NYC on that dreadful day, and responded the way he did, but his words have articulated what helps me from music.

  16. [...] Here’s an absolutely music read. Karl Paulnack’s (director of music division) welcoming address to the 2004 Boston Conservatory freshman class.  Absolutely stunning.  [From the Top] [...]

  17. I was a parent in the audience that day. Dr. Paulnack’s speech moved me deeply. I returned home that evening after leaving my beautiful songbird in the hands of Boston Conservatory and I wrote to Dr. Paulnack. I knew then that my daughter had chosen the perfect place to pursue her passion. She graduates in a few short weeks and is continuing on for her Master’s. Thank you Dr. Paulnack!!!!!

  18. I thought I would mention since it’s not real clear — The link that you LISTEN TO (above) is NOT the same speech that is printed. The printed one is similar in some respects, but I found the material contained in the actual recorded speech much MORE moving!!

  19. What a wonderful expression of the importance of music in our lives. I am the father of a daughter who I tried to push into engineering due to her aptitude in math and science. But she just couldn’t see herself doing anything other than perfecting her love of music. I relented and finally encouraged her to follow her dream. As an undergrad at Pepperdine Univ. and a grad student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I have been able to witness her passion for classical and operatic voice, and to even bring her seasoned voice instructors to tears with her rendition of classical works. I realize now that I made the right decision. My path for her would have led her to increasing the profits of some company somewhere. Her path will lead to changing/healing the hearts of those who are blessed to listen to her sing. Thank you, Dr. Paulnack, for your wonderful and stirring speech, and for encouraging young people who have a passion for changing lives through music to follow their hearts and dreams.

  20. I’ll bet Mr. Paulnack never had any inkling that his inspiring speech would be remembered and distributed around the internet and read to other students some five years after he gave it! I teach music history in a university in Seattle and find that many students these days are much more obsessed with grades than with learning. Paulnack’s speech doesn’t even mention grades to the nervous freshmen he is speaking to. He doesn’t advocate doing whatever it takes to get all A’s in every class–but what comes through loud and clear is that it is worthwhile to work long and hard to fully develop one’s craft so that one can touch others through art. Wow! What a refreshing approach. Thank you, Karl Paulnack!

  21. Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.

    – Plato

  22. [...] Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division at The Boston Conservatory, gave a speech in 2004 that has become a popular “forward” email among musicians. His message was that music [...]

  23. Does it not disturb anyone about how he says “he does not even expect it from the religions of this world”?! Does anyone believe in God anymore?! Doesn’t he realize that God GAVE US music, not the other way around.

  24. Oh, and it seems rather ignorant as well to just speak as if music is above all. Because music is simply one form of expression, don’t get me wrong I LOVE music (I sing, I write, and I play trumpet) but there are other ways people express them selves! Not everyone fully relates to music. Some people write poetry, dance, paint, plant gardens, and a plethora of other things! I really dislike his attitude of “MUSIC IS THE SUPREME BEING”! And please don’t let me offend those of you enjoying this speech I enjoyed it to…but a few things just seem wrong to me.

  25. Wow, what an incredible address. Distilling the essence of the intangible is no easy task, but the expression in this article is truly profound.

  26. I have never been so moved by such an article. It brought me to tears. Thank you for reminding us the importance of music and revealing that the world can still be a beautiful place. Most importantly, thank you for inspiring myself and hopefully many others!

  27. I post blogs on Consciousness under the title, CONSCIOUSNESS the inside story at onmymynd.wordpress.com. The content is largely based on introspective reports, and every now and then I include a report from another mind that is very different from my own. I came across Karl Paulnack’s address to incoming students in the version printed in the Christian Science Monitor of June 7, 2009. Not a musician, I have treated music consciousness in earlier blogs, but not with this level passion, eloquence, and conviction. I would very much like to include an excerpt from this particular address in an upcoming blog–consisting of the latter half of the article in the CSM. I would present it without comment, as I present my own posts. What we share in common is using the internet to help save the planet, a common duty of every citizen alive today on this Earth.

  28. Absolutely captivating, thank you.

  29. The best explanation of the importance of music I have ever seen. I will continue to pass it on…

  30. As a retired Army musician, your most important concert brought tears to my eyes. I remembered many Veterans’ hospital gigs when, as a young soldier, I listened to the retirees talk about what it was like when…. It seemed a bit tedious at the time, but they appreciated the music like no other audience. They had been there when some of that music was new; the patriotic music had true meaning for them. It seemed to put their life back into focus. Thanks for the memories!

  31. I am a musician raised in a musical family going back generations. My first
    conscious thought and memory ,as a very young child, was hearing my family
    rehearsing. Though I was too young to speak all I could think was ,what was that and I want some of it. …..Well as it turns I have been playing music
    all my life and lucky enough to have realized many of the insights you shared.
    Mainly I have always thought of music as something that heals and makes the world better. I would have been elated to have someone speak to me the way way you did to these young students ,what a beautiful and profound introduction to music studies. The first time I played as a professional I was thirteen .
    I am sixty two now I am still filled with joy every time I play. Reading this piece has validated even more what a great gift it is to both be able to play ,share and just enjoy music. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

  32. i had to find some quiet time during my lunch to read this through. i did my best to hold back my sobs throughout my entire lunch, but in the end the waiters and customers must have suspected something strange was going on with me.

    coincidentally what i find in music that resonates with me, comforts me, or validates what i’m doing as a musician was found here by reading this speech. there’s not enough room here for me to explain my thoughts as an in/direct response, but i can say this issue is deeply personal and i share many of the views expressed by Karl Paulnack.

    i have written my own blog post about the necessity of music and the arts but in context of the recent funding increase of the National Endowment For The Arts agency:

    http://bustedkeys.com/nea-receives-funding-increase-in-house-subcommittee

    i wish to continue the discussion and support of the arts and it’s great to know there are many others who have just as much if not more enthusiasm.

    thanks lucy for pointing this out. thanks karl for the speech. and thank you fttgreenroom for the post.

  33. At concert last night in Andover, CT, Bruce Bellingham , read portions of the welcoming address by Paul Paulnack. I found his comments extemely lucid as well as emotional.

  34. “Thank you.” Working in the public and private school system can be discouraging sometimes as the arts is generally always placed last on the list of funding, but first on the roster to raise money for the institution.
    It has been a worthwhile struggle as music teachers are usually seen as optional. Ironically, we are always trying to prove our worth. It is people like you who help to bring respect for an abstract resource. I dream of the day when music and the arts are realized as a valued in education. Congratulations on receiving your doctorate!

  35. That was amazing. Its has helped me to clarify what it is I do, and why I do it…..and where I may have been going wrong!! I now have a renewed purpose. Often the creation of music has served to heal me internally. Now to try to and spread that healing balm. Thank you.

  36. I am an elementary music teacher and constantly fight the stereotype of being a “babysitter” for the “real” teachers. Some, not all, but some of my students view music as a blow-off class, even though it is a required course at the elementary level in Texas. On those days when I am feeling underappreciated and in major need of validation, I will pull out a copy of Dr. Paulnack’s wonderful speech and remember that what I do is vital and important and realize that when I cry upon hearing Barber’s Adagio, or Tchaikovsky’s 4th, there is nothing wrong with me….I am normal and human and have a soul. Thank you, Dr. Paulnack.

  37. “Music appears to stimulate the brain’s natural tendency to repair itself.”

    Mark Jude Tramo — Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Attending Neurologist at Mass. General Hospital in Boston.

  38. [...] Karl Paulnack to the Boston Conservatory Freshman Class « From the Top Green Room. Blogoliste [...]

  39. Response to Karl Paulnack’s Welcome Address at the Boston Conservatory
    © 2009 by Lane Harder

    Many of my Facebook friends whose opinions I respect have recently taken to posting a link to a welcome address by Dr. Karl Paulnack to parents of incoming first-year students at the Boston Conservatory. This post gets comments like, “So beautiful,” and “Brilliant and moving,” and “This is so inspiring.” Admittedly, there is language in it that is appealing as part of a welcome address, however the conclusions espoused in it are inarticulate at best, if not completely empty, and poisonous (at worst) to the cause of endearing people to support the arts (through education or through other means) or even take them seriously in the first place. If we musicians and artists of all stripes are going to inspire people (especially parents who, presumably, are forking over no small amount of tuition money) to get on the music bandwagon, we have got to come up with better language and better ideas than Dr. Paulnack’s.

    Paulnack begins by stating that he will discuss the function of music, speculating that his own parents were not clear about music‘s value, its purpose, or its function. (Why else would they have initially protested his decision to study music in college?) Even so, I‘m not sure why he would draw the condescending conclusion that questioning his decision to study music meant that they weren’t clear about its purpose. Are there not myriad other reasons to protest or question such a big decision? This is an elitist insult to his parents. I doubt that his parents even cared about music’s function at all, let alone gave any thought to it. This is to their credit. People in society who seem to have the most vested interest in considering the pure function of music are film directors, club DJ’s, and others who utilize music in commercial media to create or enhance mood. Sociologists and psychologists give credence to music’s function but always in the service of understanding human behavior.

    Philosophers have spilled no small amount of ink on the subject of music’s functionality. Anyone who has read any historical philosophy of music has surely encountered discussions on functional (and functionalist) aspects of music, dating back to Aristotle. So, Paulnack is in good company; the funny part is that he does not actually discuss the function of music. He follows by saying, “So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the ‘arts and entertainment’ section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment.” High-minded though this is, I could not disagree more.

    In short, his statement that “serious music” (a positively insulting and inaccurate label) has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment denigrates music and denigrates entertainment. While I agree that the coverage of a performance of a Haydn string quartet in an “arts and entertainment” section of a paper just might differ slightly in tone and content from the musings of Flava Flav, Paulnack’s message seems to be, “How dare you relegate classical music to mere ‘entertainment?’” (Incidentally, where in a newspaper should classical music be covered?) His statement also implies that classical music (which, like “serious music,” is also a problematic term if a less insulting one) should not be entertaining at all, since it has “nothing to do” with entertainment. This is entry-level stuff. My first-year rhetoric professor in a seminar on art and society summed it up neatly when she said, “I find it entertaining to go see documentaries or hear lectures or concerts of classical music or do anything else to gain knowledge or culture. For me, synthesizing information in this way is entertaining.” Surely music’s primary function, as one of the (not only fine but) performing arts is to entertain. Surely we are amused aurally and intellectually and emotionally by what we hear in a concert hall. Why else would we listen to it or even go to the concert hall in the first place? Paulnack not only ignores this level of consumption but negates it; he decries it as not only trivial but anachronistic. Why should Dr. Paulnack distance himself from this aspect of it? In short, why is there shame in entertainment? Why should he feel the need to justify the merits of music in other terms to the exclusion of this fundamental one? Why should we pretend like we aren’t entertained…..ESPECIALLY by music that we know to be of high quality?

    Dr. Paulnack and his pseudo-intellectual ilk seem to put entertainment dead last in the priority list of music’s functions, perhaps thinking, “If the masses are entertained then it‘s a bonus, but I‘m here to perform Art.” To Dr. Paulnack, I say that no matter what kind of philosophical or artistic aspirations you bring to your performance, music is, ultimately, an accumulation of sounds spinning in the air (since all sound is, literally, a disturbance in air pressure), and that is the level at which it is received by an audience. Philosophy and artistic expression and (watch out) meaning can be discussed later in the coffee shop, but an audience must enjoy what they are hearing FIRST, no matter what the reason. I enjoy listening to Faure for very different reasons than I enjoy listening to Xenakis, but the point is that I enjoy listening to them. By definition, then, I am entertained by them.

    …..but allow for all of this. Let us see Dr. Paulnack’s explication of music’s function. He follows by saying:

    The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us.

    Fascinating indeed. Nevermind that this does not address the function of music, his conclusion a complete non sequitur. It is true that ancient Greek philosophers considered music and astronomy to have a very strong connection. Well-known music historian Donald Grout writes that Plato’s poetic form of “music of the sphere” gave the idea that it was “…not only through the identity of mathematical laws that were thought to underlie both the system of musical intervals and the system of the heavenly bodies, but also through a particular correspondence of certain modes and even certain notes with the various planets.” Pythagorean research into the properties of acoustics sprang from this, as did the codification of intervals into early scales. What can be wrong with this argument?

    Well, for one thing, Plato also believed that music could “work miracles” in the natural realm. The ancient Greeks also believed that music’s origins were supernatural, if the association of music with the nine muses of Olympus, Dionysus, and Orpheus are any indication. Plato also wrote, “He who mingles music with gymnastic in the fairest proportions, and best attempts them to the soul, may be rightly called the true musician.” He goes on to say, as quoted in Grout, “Melodies of expressive softness and indolence are to be avoided in the education of those who are being trained to become governors of the ideal state; for them, only the Dorian and Phrygian ‘tunes’ are to be retained as promoting the virtues of courage and temperance respectively.” I am not here to bash Plato; quite the contrary. Our modern philosophy about the arts simply would not have developed the same way without his extraordinary work…..but thank God that we as a society no longer believe these sayings to be true. Why doesn’t Dr. Paulnack comment on this instead of coming to the absurd (and absurdly-worded) conclusion that “Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us”? What does that even mean? …..and why do we accept it?

    But again, allow for this…..Paulnack then proffers an example to explain, presumably, this ridiculous conclusion from his non-argument. His example is Quatuor pour la fin du temps, a work by the rather thoughtful and expressive twentieth-century composer, Olivier Messiaen. It is certainly inspiring that Messiaen attempted to write a work as a symbolic gesture of depicting circumstances which must surely have seemed to him as the end of time, if not of his life, during World War II. I am also moved by the anecdotes of its premiere performance in a stalag in Görlitz with some 400 attendant fellow political prisoners and guards. It does not even matter that two of the eight movements previously existed in other instrumentations. It is an impressive work, and even though it does not (in my opinion) make full use of Messiaen’s formidable ear for instrumental color and balance, its philosophy and its intent can be appreciated by even the harshest of critics.

    This is not what bothers me.

    What bothers me is how Paulnack twists this anecdote for his own gain. “Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are,” Paulnack purports. I wonder if Messiaen would agree. It seems to me that Paulnack is conflating two issues that result, literally, in a fallacy. Either art frequently and commonly thrives in harsh environments, or this was a uniquely amazing feat that Messiaen pulled off. It does not make it true that because he did it then art thrives in harsh conditions. In fact, art may have survived in this case in spite of harsh conditions. Therefore, why do the circumstances of the Quatuor’s creation seem so remarkable if the creation of art in harsh conditions is as commonplace and as necessary to human survival as Dr. Paulnack suggests? After all, his argument makes Messiaen’s achievement commonplace, just another quartet written in a prison, when it should be celebrated for its uniqueness. Do we as musicians want someone with such misleading arguments purporting to speak for us about why parents should support their children’s futures as musicians?

    Paulnack then moves on to an anecdote about September 11, 2001. He reportedly asked himself a series of existential questions as he began his daily piano practice after the attacks of that day: “Does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant?” and later, “Who needs a piano player right now?” I must admit that I shared these same sentiments on that fateful day and for many days afterward. My own life’s work as a composer and teacher seemed futile and somehow devoid of meaning in the face of a national tragedy. He goes on to speak of many people in his neighborhood frequently singing in groups the likes of “We Shall Overcome” and “America the Beautiful.” The first organized concert he witnessed later that week was at Lincoln Center, and it included Brahms’ German Requiem. He makes the claim that the national recovery was led by the arts, and by music specifically. On this point, vague though it is, I cannot disagree.

    Music, for whatever reason, is useful in times of grief and sorrow. I have borne witness, as we all have, to the simplest of tunes bringing funeral congregants to tears of catharsis and release. I make no claims to knowing the reason why this phenomenon seems to be true, and no one outside the fields of neuroscience, psychology, psychoacoustics, or biology and their related fields should either without a better understanding of evidence. Based on his appalling and shoddy discussion on this subject, Dr. Paulnack certainly does not know, so does this phenomenon really have to be explained to an audience of parents who Dr. Paulnack probably presumes, as he did for his own parents, knows nothing of the function of music? Surely the cathartic properties of music need no further explanation.

    He goes on to make the impassioned claim that “Music is a basic need of human survival.” People of all epochs have rendered such outlandishly poetic claims about music before. “Bach opens a vista to the universe. After experiencing him, people feel there is meaning to life after all,” was uttered by Helmut Walcha, and Simon Rattle is purported to have said, “If anyone has conducted a Beethoven performance, and then doesn’t have to go to an osteopath, then there’s something wrong.” Trite though these statements are, they ring truer than Paulnack’s claim about music as a basic human need. Just to consult Maslow alone, there are many needs much more basic than music. To take the obvious ones, there is breath, food, water, sleep, excretion, and even sex. Add to these at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid of human needs that of “homeostasis,” the poetic concept of a self-regulating system in an organism that keeps that organism stable and constant. What need would any of us have for music if any of these conditions for survival were not in place? If I were choking on a piece of food and could not breathe, I would never motion for my dining companion to turn up the stereo so I could hear my favorite part of the Pulcinella suite. If I were hungry, music would be little more than an unwelcome distraction. If I could not breathe, nothing at all – not the color of the wallpaper or the music in the background – would matter until I could draw air into my lungs again. These may seem extreme examples, but they hopefully exemplify the contrast between music and truly basic human needs.

    Moving up Maslow’s pyramid, the next category of needs concerns safety. These needs are security of body, of health, of property, of resources, of family, of employment, and (some might say surprisingly) of morality. What is accomplished through music if any of these is missing? Some solace, perhaps, but not much and not for very long. If one is daunted by an unpredictable living environment with a tenuous foothold in securities of means and personal wellness, how useful can music really be? Does it even qualify as a need at this point? Then in the pyramid follow the concepts of love and belonging which include security of family, friendship, and sexual intimacy. It is only at this level that I can even seriously consider introducing music as a legitimate component, and even here it does not rise to the level of a need, although it might be quite useful for personal reasons. It seems to me that it’s only at the top of Maslow’s pyramid (when we encounter issues of morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and the acceptance of facts) that we can even include music fully in the discussion…..but still not as a need. Rather, at this point, music can peacefully coexist with these other more complex needs and even be used in their service. We’ve come a long way from eating, sleeping, and breathing, and it may seem obvious, but Dr. Paulnack’s claim that music is a basic human need should seem in error even more from the top of the pyramid.

    Next, Paulnack discusses music at weddings and how even bad music can make people well up with emotion. I agree, as I stated in my above example of funerals. Paulnack references “the Greeks” again, first saying (strangely) that they are the answer to the question of why people cry at weddings, following with, “Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can‘t talk about it,” and concluding the paragraph with, “The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.” Ladies and gentlemen, if I have not made my point already, surely this is the bow tied neatly on the package.

    The irony at this point in the delivery is that Dr. Paulnack goes on to tell a tremendously and genuinely moving story, fully appropriate to the proceedings for which he spoke, about playing at a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota. A World War II pilot in the audience began weeping during the performance of Aaron Copland‘s Violin Sonata and had to excuse himself, later telling Dr. Paulnack that he watched his friend parachute from a plane during a combat mission, only to have the cords of his parachute severed by Japanese pilots. He had not thought about the incident in many years, but the music caused him to recall it vividly to the point of seeming to relive it. He excused himself after the piece when it was announced that the piece was written by Copland to commemorate a lost pilot, and this coincidence was, understandably, too much for the veteran to contain. Who can fail to be moved by this story? No one of even average emotional function can, I should think. The problem, yet again, is Paulnack’s conclusion about it.

    Paulnack concludes that it is this sort of experience that is music‘s raison d’etre, a truly reductionist claim. Why should we as musicians be bound 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”? First of all, music can serve many functions, none of which need to be explained or spelled out for people who love music, as most of us do. For anyone who experiences a catharsis like the pilot in Paulnack’s audience in Fargo, the experience should be the beginning of an exploration of those emotions, never an end unto itself. If we as music consumers seek out music to trigger emotions and experience joy or sadness (or, as Hindemith would suggest, memories of joy or sadness), then the experience we seek is not therapy, it is not about being “happy and well,” and it cannot possibly ensure wellness (What single component of human experience can?). It is for the emotional trigger itself, which can lead to a desire for wellness, but it’s no guarantee for the thing itself. In short, it’s entertainment. Again I ask, what is wrong with this?

    Well, for one thing, music does not always elicit the cathartic feelings that Dr. Paulnack describes. It might not even generate feelings that lead to a positive outcome. Sometimes the effects of music can be quite sinister indeed. This should come as no mystery. Anyone who has ever read about the infamous premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps knows that the score in question (and its attendant choreography) elicited shouts of outrage and incidents of fisticuffs, to say nothing of no small amount of invective in print. Lots of invective has been penned about music, in fact; enough for Slominsky to compile an entire entertaining volume of it, and on the work of such sacred cows as Mahler, Brahms, Wagner, and Debussy. …and for that matter, what about the way music manipulates emotion? Can’t music sometimes make one’s emotions a little fuzzy? It can even manipulate people to take actions that are not in their best interests. Music has been used as torture for centuries but most recently it has been used in interrogation in Iraq, in U.S. prisons in Guantanamo Bay, at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and in Panama in the late 1980’s. Where is the analogy of “the Greeks” in this miry scenario? Big, invisible pieces? Where, and for what purpose? Should we even expect that these “big, invisible pieces” should line up at all? Is it even good or right that they (whatever they are) should?

    …and what about the use of music for ironic purposes? In other words, what if a composer is at fault for making us uneasy? Anyone who has ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange will never hear “Singing in the Rain” quite the same way. What about the use of “Daisy Bell” in his 2001: A Space Odyssey, a portion of the lyrics to which reads:

    Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do
    I’m half crazy all for the love of you
    It won’t be a stylish marriage
    I can’t afford a carriage
    But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
    Of a bicycle built for two

    Remember that this is sung by a computer (the gloriously evil HAL 9000) whose memory is being shut down by Dave Bowman as its spacecraft hurtles through a black, empty void towards Jupiter. This song, as it drops in pitch and in intelligibility, is completely terrifying and chill-inducing. …and I’m sure that no one will ever forget the horrifically contrapuntal use of “Stuck in the Middle with You” in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Even an original song like “Poor Jud is Daid” from Oklahoma! has irony aplenty.

    These examples are about context, though. What if we move away from film and theatre, then, to abstract concert music? What about Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony? A sniping, angry, sarcastic piece, yet full of equal measures of caprice and frivolity. Or Stravinsky’s falsely-grand Symphony in Three Movements, full of stylistic anachronisms and dual meanings and contradictions at every turn. Even the overly-sanitized music of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies have a dry, seemingly-functionless, objectivity to them that can unsettle and infuriate the party faithful.

    This is surely not a black-and-white issue, nor is it an open and shut case as Dr. Paulnack would have his listeners believe. There are just as many ways to receive music and experience music as there are types of music in the world. This, in my opinion, is why music really matters. Is music only important when a listener has an emotional epiphany? It seems to me that this is definitely not the case with most listeners listening to most music most of the time. What kind of expectations is Paulnack setting if he implies that this is the only meaningful outcome of listening to music? For Paulnack to say, “This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters,” may be true, but even a cursory glance below the surface of this well-worn issue will show that his is a dangerously reductionist view of things, especially to the extent that it ignores the responses of the rest of the listeners. Paulnack, then, is asking musicians to only consider a small percentage of their audience when they perform.

    The comments that Paulnack tells the parents that he is going to tell their children in the upcoming opening assembly at the Boston Conservatory are truly the nadir of his address. His comments include this inspiring passage: “Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.” Later, he says:

    “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.”

    Who really believes that musicians can “save the planet?” If musicians want to fly to Darfur and administer some aid, then huzzah!, but they do not need to be musicians to do this. He makes some fine but obvious points about governments, militaries, corporations, and religions before saying, “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.” This is a statement so nonsensical as to be, as scientists say of theories founded on no evidence or that miss the point of a theory completely, “not even wrong.”

    This is his grand conclusion? This is his charge to young musicians? Does he take them and their parents for fools? Is “the function of music” really encapsulated by his charge for each of them to work “…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”? I am sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but who wants this psychobabble to be true? Who wishes this was true? Dr. Paulnack could not have attained a degree of doctor of anything by using this type of non-reason and half-baked argument. Reading his address, one gets the feeling that he doesn’t respect his audience, even from the opening lines.

    Dr. Paulnack, ultimately, has a good general point (and nothing in the way of a specific point) but, curiously, no evidence for it. In delivering what I’m sure is a well-intentioned talk, he has instead done absolutely nothing to advance the cause of supporting the arts in general and music specifically. Imagine yourself a parent of one of the talented Boston Conservatory first-year students listening to this piffle. Do you feel better knowing that the Dr. Paulnacks of the world are shaping educational policy, curriculum, and diagnostics for your children (to say nothing of conferring degrees) with this nonsense as a backdrop? Bear in mind that you are being addressed as though you do not understand the function of music, and when Paulnack then deigns to explain it, he condescends to and insults you even further by having nothing of value to say on the subject.

    I find this terrifying and inexcusable.

    My friends and fellow musicians may possibly respond to me in two ways. First, they will ask why I would attack another musician who apparently has the same greater goal of engendering support for future musicians. Isn’t this disingenuous? Isn’t this stirring up trouble where none need exist? To paraphrase a sociological term, isn’t this musician-on-musician crime?

    Absolutely not. We must call those in positions of power and authority to account for their words and actions, and I say to you, ladies and gentlemen, that Paulnack’s speech is not only wrong in its content but it is immoral in its premise. My response to this anticipated objection, then, is…Why aren’t more people speaking out against it? The musician-on-musician crime, then, is Paulnack’s alone.

    Second, they will say that I am overreacting. Well…..am I?

    Consider the offense and then tell me, virtual interlocutor, how you would respond. What should our response be to Paulnack’s intellectual laziness and insulting language? What should our response be to the chair of a music department purporting to speak for musicians with this drivel? What should our response be to fellow musicians inclined to support it? I say that we must react strongly, and in so doing, we must, all of us, hold ourselves to a higher and more exacting standard of thinking about our art and our collective life’s work in it. If we expect to be taken seriously when it comes to asking for funding, to increasing attendance at our events, and to supporting our children’s musical education, this is the least (and the most) that we can do.

    -LH

    • Why do your comments feel so much like the sour grapes of the by-the-numbers talent of Salieri over the genius that was Mozart? Could it be that you “just don’t get it,” in spite of your 4,793 word attempt to convince us of how smart you purport yourself to be? To each their own opinion, I suppose, but why do your comments just make me feel sad for you? To expand on Dr. Wayne Johnson’s comment below, it makes me wonder: do you suck the fresh air out of every room you go to?

      • I’m sorry; it was rude of me to insult another musician (Salieri). I fear that Mr. Harder’s venom is catching…..

  40. Mr. Harder’s response to Dr. Paulnack’s talk literally sucks the fresh air out of the room. It reminds me of why I won’t go to a concert with another musician. After a memorable, moving performance–even though it may have had its flaws–I need to be left alone to enjoy places the music took me to for at least a little while instead of being subjected to a barrage of criticism of what was wrong.

    Perhaps Mr. Harder would be a little kinder to one of our presidents, (I believe it was John F. Kennedy) who in one of his speeches expressed many of the same sentiments as Dr. Paulnack. I may not have every single word correct since I’m quoting from memory, but as a musician and an artist, this beautiful statement has inspired and encouraged me often– and particularly at those times in my life when I wondered if my art really matters:

    “Behind the storms of daily conflict and crisis, and behind the dramatic confrontations and tumults of political struggle, it’s the artist, and the poet, and the musican that continues the quiet work of the centuries–building bridges of experiences between peoples, and reminding man of the universality of his feelings, and desires, and despairs, and reminding him that the forces that unite are deeper than those that divide.”

  41. Author: Dr. Wayne Johnson
    Comment:
    Mr. Harder’s response to Dr. Paulnack’s talk literally sucks the fresh air out of the room. It reminds me of why I won’t go to a concert with another musician. After a memorable, moving performance–even though it may have had its flaws–I need to be left alone to enjoy places the music took me to for at least a little while instead of being subjected to a barrage of criticism of what was wrong.

    Perhaps Mr. Harder would be a little kinder to one of our presidents, (I believe it was John F. Kennedy) who in one of his speeches expressed many of the same sentiments as Dr. Paulnack. I may not have every single word correct since I’m quoting from memory, but as a musician and an artist, this beautiful statement has inspired and encouraged me often– and particularly at those times in my life when I wondered if my art really matters:

    “Behind the storms of daily conflict and crisis, and behind the dramatic confrontations and tumults of political struggle, it’s the artist, and the poet, and the musican that continues the quiet work of the centuries–building bridges of experiences between peoples, and reminding man of the universality of his feelings, and desires, and despairs, and reminding him that the forces that unite are deeper than those that divide.”

    I agree.Camille Forman

    I wuld like to repeat the comments of Wayne Johnson.

  42. Our family is in the process of making some major educational decisions with our son who is very musically talented. After reading Lane Harder’s entire post, it is obvious to me that the “completely empty and poisonous” attitude displayed there is not the type of approach that our son is interested in being exposed to. I am pleased that Lane Harder has just made our decision a little easier. Because we can now cross Lane Harder’s Theory Class and Peabody off of our list.

  43. I am not a musician. I am the beneficiary of the work of musicians. My life has been enriched, my soul soothed, my mind stimulated and my world broadened by their music. I have had the good fortune to be surrounded by beautiful music my entire life. From childhood through my years of education and into my adult life, music has been my refuge. Mr. Paulnack’s address perfectly describes the role it has played.

    The reader soars with the majesty of Dr. Paulnack’s address and then is crashed to the ground by Lane Harder’s rant! Mr. Harder, by denigrating Dr. Paulnack’s ideas, reveals a pompous, self-aggrandizing attitude that, as Shenandoah (above) has said, is “completely empty and poisonous”.

    Bravo, Dr. Paulnack. I applaud you for articulating what so many folks feel about the music that surrounds them.

  44. [...] is a really great short essay on why serious music is [...]

  45. Marvellous, if you wonder why a songwriter is important. Read this completely…

  46. Bravo Mr Paulnack!!!!!! It seems to me, our fiend Mr Harder knows the notes but not the music.

  47. Mr. Harder’s agenda appears totally confused as to what constitutes basic human needs as distinct from basic bestial needs. His condescending list of more essential “human” needs than music would apply nicely to the description of life among caged reptiles. The slightest modification to his wording would allow his list to include bacterial life, which could be given Pride of Place in his joyless creed.

  48. [...] the class shared what type of color this boy might use to convey the mood, I recalled the welcome address Dr. Karl Paulnack gave Boston Conservatory of Music, Freshman in 2004. The speech does an excellent [...]

  49. [...] Pieces (Not a Cure for Cancer) Here’s an interesting speech on music by Karl Paulnack to the Boston Conservatory Freshman Class about [...]

  50. [...] our conversation about an interesting speech by Karl Paulnack to the Boston Conservatory Freshman Class about the nature of music. I highly recommend you read the speech, as it’s pretty deep. The [...]

  51. [...] it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.   Click here to READ MORE … posted under [...]

  52. [...] Karl Paulnack to the Boston Conservatory Freshman Class [...]

  53. Absolutely LOVE this speech, it helped me fill my singularity quite a bit! Thank you!

  54. Also thank you for the inspiration and helping me define my feelings towards music, which I had started to believe had to be unwarranted. I don´t believe in my feeling yet, but I got my spark to light a fire. ;)

  55. Thank you. So, so much. I’m a college freshman, and during my senior year of high school, I had that same moment, where you think, Does this even matter? It was so strong, really, that I came to college with a plan to study nursing instead. But I’ve discovered that music is what I must pursue. You have just told me why. Thank you.

  56. This is why I do what I do. Art is the only thing that can save the planet Earth.

  57. To those of you who are attacking Mr. Harder’s comment, did you take the time to read the entire thing and to consider his viewpoint?

    There is something to be said about considering opposing points and the ideas of others. You are not required to agree with someone when you consider their thoughts.

    I believe that both Dr. Paulnack and Mr. Harder had sound arguments and ideas that should be thought through. To each his own, and I believe that it is our duty as human beings to allow people to voice their thoughts and have them considered.

    Once again, consideration and keeping an open mind does not mean that you must change your own opinion. It simply means being able to think about all sides. If you still agree with one opinion after considering others, it makes your original opinion all the stronger. And if you happen to change your original opinion slightly, then that’s ok as well.

    There is nothing wrong with thinking about music in many different ways. Obviously, all people experience music and experience life in general with their own set of life experiences and opinions, and that’s what makes it wonderful to discuss music with others.

    If we all felt and thought the same way about music, it would not be nearly as powerful as we all believe it to be.

    If Mr. Harder wrote his opinion first and Dr. Paulnack responded to it, would your reactions have been the same?

    When you agree with an initial idea, do not forget to keep your mind open to furthering your thoughts. Life is all the more sweeter when you continue your search for your opinions and your beliefs.

    I, personally, agree with both men. A novel concept, I concede.

    • Also, intelligent discourse such as would be had with both men in one room would be truly enlightening and something that would be life-changing. Imagine how incredible such a conversation would be. Two minds expanding upon one marvelous subject. There is nothing that I love more than intelligent conversation, especially about music.

      Discussion is much better than lecture, wouldn’t you agree?

  58. Thankfulness to my father who informed me on the topic of this
    blog, this web site is actually awesome.

  59. A highly regarded musician friend sent me the URL for Dr. Paulnack’s speech, and the unmistakable impression was that my musician friend was overawed with the gist of Paulnack’s essay on the transcendent essence and omnipotence of music. As I read the speech, I was left curious and uncomfortable as to what exactly Dr. Paulnack wanted music to end up being. It seemed that it was being elevated to be the meaning of the universe.

    As a musician for a living myself, I scarcely hold a diminished view of music nor the importance and worthiness of what is gladly my art, my avocation and my vocation. Nevertheless, music’s ascendance to being the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, and that tool whereby the planet can, if it merely submits to the Godlike powers of music, be transformed to a higher plane of human existence, cannot be supported either by philosophy, human experience, religion, or logic. It is least of all, supported by us musicians, who are just as untrustworthy and feckless as any welder, cook, or CPA.

    The only thing more overreaching than anointing music as the cure for all human ills is to attempt to promote human artists to that lofty post. As we all know, and all musicians especially know, we cause at least as many human travails as we alleviate, in that, we are human, and at our best, we barely survive each day without harming ourselves with self-destructive stupidity, or harming others as we ply our carnal share of envies, jealousies, and resentments. Never in my career have I regarded music to be more than a good and versatile tool in my bag of survival tricks, and I love music, but I know its limitations as intimately as I know its wonders.

    Dr. Paulnick, in his pride as a musician, may salivate to think that the peace of all nations, and thus, the planet’s salvation will “come from artists because that’s what we do” however, I don’t expect this, nor do I even like the idea. The main reason? That is not all we artists do: we also instigate our portion of disharmony and un-wellness along the way, and the best that we can hope for is to quell the beast within, and pray and work to be better people, just like the (lowly) non-musicians around us.

    The “artists as saviors of the world” syllogism would be valid except for the inconvenient major premise that the savage beast that music is said to soothe is also resident in us, the makers of that music. Paraphrasing Pogo, we have seen the enemy, and many of them are us musicians, unfortunately, not saviors, and not Princes of Peace.

    Perhaps the good doctor was thinking that his timely promotion of student musician to savior of the planet would instill in the harkening parents a newfound respect for those flawed and human children they knew too well weren’t that godlike when they left the house, and thus, keep the tuition rolling in. However, if I were a parent listening to one of the heads of a stellar, world-famous music institution telling me my kid, by becoming a musician, was also going to become a Messiah, I might opt instead for the music academy across town in the strip mall, next to the Chinese restaurant. At least there, the kid would have a decent, though plebian chance of learning some music, and doing some small but significant good with it, while also earning a living or part of one, without also acquiring a God complex.

    Artists armed with the brain stem of Mozart, the indefatigability of Beethoven, and the good worldly fortune of Handel, will hardly become a better savior of humankind than that unknown and unsung hero down the street who visits the sick, gives of his paltry alms, and tries every day, in his untalented and unheralded way to help as he can, even though he can’t play Hot Cross Buns on a two dollar recorder to save his life.

    Musicians all over can now safely come down from that steeple of Dr. Paulnack’s construction, and live with the rest of humankind on the dirty ground. (see: “The Preacher’s Mistake” by Wm. Coswell Doane). May none of us, preachers or musicians, come to the end of life still up there in that tower yammering “Where art thou, God?” We should all be “down here” among our people.

    MRE

  60. […] Music saves lives: “I have come to understand that music is not part of ‘arts and entertainment’ as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.” […]

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