Thursday, June 25, 2015

Where have all the meaningful experiences gone?

Don't open the door to the study and begin reading
Take down a musical instrument
Let the beauty we love be what we do
Those wise words are by the Sufi master Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, and the photo shows an original Zuckermann harpsichord kit from 1968. I have recounted here before how during the second half of the twentieth century the harpsichord came back from the dead to reclaim its rightful position on the concert platform. Wolfgang Zuckermann's $150 harpsichord kits, which were launched in 1959, played a major roler in this rehabilitation, which extended beyond early music into the works of John Cage, Elliott Carter and Maurice Ohana. In the 1960s John Cage and Merce Cunningham were neighbours of Zuckermann in Greenwich Village, and the premiere of Cage's HPSCHD in 1969 used Zuckermann harpsichords.

Wolfgang Zuckermann sold his harpsichord business in 1969 and left America in protest against the Vietnam war. He eventually settled in France and ran an idiosyncratic bookshop in Avignon until he retired in aged 87 - I took the photo of him below shortly before he retired in 2008*. My interest in the godfather of the modern harpsichord recently led me to a fascinating account of building a Zuckermann kit like the one seen above. Its author James Gollin explains that "There is a special satisfaction, I admit, in being able to play music on an instrument you’ve built yourself" and quotes Wolfgang Zuckermann as saying "Some [people] actually looked forward to the kind of meaningful experience associated with building an instrument.”

Building an instrument, playing an instrument, making music, even listening to live music - where have all the meaningful experiences gone? Milan Kundera suggests in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that once we lose the ability to express an emotion, the capacity to feel that emotion is eventually lost. There is a strong case for arguing that one we lose the ability to express music, so we lose the ability to appreciate music.

* It is pleasing to report that Wolfgang Zuckermann's bookshop in Avignon continues to thrive under its new owner Camille Vourch, as described in a 2013 post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Steve said...

I think you mean that Zuckerman sold his business and left the US in protest against the Vietnam War in 1969, not 1979. Fascinating story.

Pliable said...

Yes Steve, you are quite right. My typo entirely and now corrected.

Elaine Fine said...

I think it might be hopeful to consider the "we" of which you speak. There are far, far, far more people who play instruments and sing now than there were would-be harpsichordists in the 60s and 70s who had the skills necessary to build Instruments from a kit! Good string instruments (that can be rented or purchased at a reasonable price) are more easily available than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Even though school music programs have been gutted of late, there are far more qualified teachers around (everywhere) than there were when I was growing up. Also, there are a great many adults who decide to begin playing in order to express themselves. Many know that they might not achieve the technical ability to play at the level of their peers who began as children, but the love of music and the gratified feelings they get expressing themselves and communicating musically with others give great meaning to their musical days.