Not too terribly long ago here at Loud Time I was waxing nostalgic about the idea of music. The subject of that post was the absurd melodrama August Rush, with its clever but forgettable soundtrack, its ridiculous plot and its impressive visual representation of music. Despite its flaws, I liked the movie for the idea it presented about music.
This weekend I went to a high school band concert; three bands performed at different degrees of sophistication, the high point being a symphonic arrangement that recreated the sounds of a "ghost train"--complete with crickets and train whistles. I was a little restless in the audience; I enjoyed the music, but mostly I was marveling at the surreality of the experience. I was, at one time, one of those high school students: counting measures of rest, controling my embouchure, nursing grudges against the percussionists, enduring an unrequited crush on the piccolo players, keeping one eye on my music stand and one eye on the conductor's baton.
These kids were all dressed in black; girls in dresses, boys in tuxes. The net effect was a sense of uniformity, common purpose: despite all the drama that I know exists behind a high school band, this weekend was all about the music.
The theme of the weekend continued on Sunday with the Grammy's, celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. Fresh talents paired with living legends--Beyonce and Tina Turner, Be Be Winans with Aretha Franklin, and so on and so forth--Kanye West paid tribute to his mom, Cirque du Soleil and the cast of Across the Universe paid tribute to the Beatles, and Cyndi Lauper paid tribute to Amy Winehouse. The capstone of the evening came when living legend Herbie Hancock, who earlier in the evening paid tribute to George Gershwin, took home the record of the year Grammy for his album paying tribute to Joni Mitchell.
Running throughout the weekend, on my car's CD player and otherwise in the back of my mind, was the music from the film Once, a movie that achieved more completely what August Rush attempted. The film takes us through a once-in-a-lifetime encounter between two musicians--one, a singer-songwriter whose heart has been broken by a woman in London; the other, a singer-pianist who left her husband on the continent in search of a better life in Dublin. We're led to expect romance, but instead we're treated to the unfolding of a poignant creative process.
Pivotal to the movie is what I've taken to calling "the scene," in which the "broken-hearted Hoover fixer sucker guy" teaches the expatriate singer his song "Falling Slowly," a song you should have already downloaded by now. The scene takes place in the back of a music shop during the lunch hour. The boy is in his head, remembering the pain of his loss, forcing his way through an emotionally draining song. The girl is focused entirely on the boy, learning the song by watching him sing, watching him suffer. We don't "see" music visualized like we did in August Rush; we don't "see" music systematically stripped of drama like Saturday's high school band concert; we don't "see" music celebrated like we did at the Grammy's. Instead we see music being made--a delicate, vulnerable process shared by all the musicians involved.
I used to be a musician; what I miss from being a musician is not the showmanship of performance or the drama that attends to the life of a musician. What I do occasionally miss is that moment of creation, when people really listen to each other, really watch each other. I miss those moments when each artist realizes what the others are doing and adds his or her own artistry. Music is a creative process, and I think that's why it captures our imagination. The idea of music is participation in creation, and while it can be made in isolation, it's made all the more poignant when it's made together. It's quite a scene; everyone should see it, and even moreso, we ought to live it.