This week was back-to-school week for my kids, and of course, my wife and I had parental duties to meet our kids’ teachers. Since we have a large family with some in parochial school and others in high school, it was necessary for us to split up. On Thursday, I got the high school, my wife got the elementary school. In any case, one of my daughter’s teachers mentioned a great saying that I’ll share here:
The greatest risk to society is that we have the experience, but miss the meaning – T. S. Eliot
Wow! That quote hit me like a ton of bricks! It reminded me of listening to a clip once that this guy did to demonstrate his Dumble amp. His technique was flawless, but what he was playing was completely nonsensical and perhaps more importantly, absolutely emotionless.
Playing music is like making conversation. Conversation isn’t just words spoken, but emotion conveyed. It’s the combination of words and emotion that convey meaning. For instance, here’s a quick clip that I put together a few minutes ago. The first part is a scale in C-major played straight, then the same notes are played again, but with feeling. The second part is a chord progression in Am, again played straight, and then adding some emotion.
Same notes and chords in both examples, but with the emotion added, convey a completely different meaning.
To me, adding meaning is what separates the wankers from the players. I don’t care how great someone’s technique is or how blazingly fast they can play. If the playing is all about technique and doesn’t have any emotion, it’s just well… dry. It harkens back to that quote above.
But don’t get me wrong, having no technique isn’t good either. I once dropped into a nightclub to listen to a jazz trio. I walked out after a couple of minutes because the guy playing guitar had no technique whatsoever! Look, I get dissonant, abstract jazz; some of the late Kenny Kirkland’s stuff was way way out there, but I dug it because his technique AND feeling pervaded throughout the songs he played. But what I listened to that night was simply crap that was being passed off as dissonant jazz.
Even with gear, you can have all sorts of equipment, but you still have to play it and make music. My good friend purchased A TON of gear from an estate sale. The guy who died had all sorts of amps, guitars, and effects; so much that it filled my friend’s long-bed pickup AND his race car transport trailer. The guy played at home. More power to him to be passionate about gear. But this was ridiculous!
So here are a few questions that I’ve been asking myself the past couple of days since I read that quote:
- Where’s the meaning in my life?
- Is my focus all on experience?
- Shouldn’t passion count?
- Musically, what kind of meaning am I trying to convey?
The last question is something I’ve really been pondering, as I recently overcame some serious writer’s block. I had been at an impasse with my music for a couple of years, then recently decided to go in the direction that to where my passion was pointing. Now the music is flowing through my head again. I’ve found my meaning – at least for now…