Musicians, especially flutists, are ridiculous. The field is populated by garden-variety village idiots, and the profession is largely a closed circle, of little use or relevance to the real lives of real people. Read what musicians have to say for themselves: a major flute-centered publication honors flutists “whose dedication has transformed the landscape around them” and claims that their gladiatorial competitions are “ways to be part of a collective spirit”; a highly sought-after performer fancies herself a musical doctor, healing the souls of her audiences; a well-respected professor claims that music school is more difficult than medical school, and even compares music studies to Basic Training. Everybody with a head on straight will smell the reek of bullshit in these statements, but the real question is: why don’t musicians?
I can’t tell most musicians apart. Technical and musical standards are rising, but the range of acceptable expression remains narrow. Fifty years ago, there may have been only a handful of musicians of the highest calibre, each playing in their own way. Now there are hundreds of high calibre musicians, but they still play in those old ways. There are sanctioned sounds, eligible expressions, and even, if you ask the juries and the professors nicely, a list of allowed eccentricities. But who cares? Is this bravado of musicianship for the audiences or for the musicians?
A narcissism of small differences has set in. Debates are had, dissertations are written, careers are made and lost, all over minutiae that no layman is interested in. Despite the claims of musical healing and community building, most musicians are startlingly out of touch with what nonmusical audiences care about. There are exceptions, of course, and they shine brightly. But why aren’t they the norm? Where are the seekers, the nomads, the poets? They have been replaced by careerist conference attendees.
We have become Gibraltar macaques: monkeys jockeying for higher and higher position on the rock face while amused tourists take videos and selfies.
I do not have a solution, but I do have the beginning of an idea: learn to cook a meal and share it with loved ones. It does not need to be extravagant, but it does need to be detailed. Learn to use a knife safely and efficiently. Practice your knife skills as if this were your job. Learn some basic dishes, but do not use recipes. Learn to develop a tactile understanding of what cooking a meal feels like in your hands. Cooking a meal is useful in a way that a musician’s so-called art will never be. Feed a hungry stomach with your hands, and you will learn what it means to contribute something to this world in a solid way.
A man who can grow potatoes, or milk a cow, or feed a large table of guests with his own hands will never be ridiculous in the way that a pretentious aesthete who lives to be a diva on the concert stage is. We can’t do many extramusical things while we have our careers, but cooking is something we have to do anyway. Learn to do it beautifully. It is a dignified act of love to cook a meal for someone; treat it as such. Then, and only then, think about your music. And when you do, be a cook, not an artist.