This address by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division at The Boston Conservatory, though already 8 years old, came to me from a friend this week. I was so moved by it that I wanted to share it with you.
“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.”
Mr. Paulnack concludes his address with these words:
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.
Paulnack’s is a powerful statement of what music is and does in particular, and what the arts as a whole bring to the human condition. Parents, schools, politicians and government officials, budgets, philanthropists, and people of faith – take note!
My only problem with his address is his broadsided critique of religion as a vehicle of human wrath. That characterization is not religion. Rather, his is really a critique of human avarice, greed and ego. It its pure form, religion and the arts have the same spiritual goal – to bring us close to Oneness, to God, to our highest selves and that is healing not only of one’s particular tribe or community, but of all the world.
His address is worth reading.