Do musicians play music, or does music play musicians?

Imagine that you are playing a major scale on a piano or a sitar. In that moment of intertwinement with the scale, we really seem to be playing a scale, we really seem to be melodiously experiencing an aspect of it, but the mystic point of view is that the scale is playing the musician; that that particular probability, that particular existential set is simply releasing an infinitesimally small potential in a manifested form.
Do musicians play music, or does music play musicians? At yesterday's concert* in Cambridge by Ken Zuckerman (sarod) and Sanju Sahai (tabla) - see photo above - the music was most definitely playing the musicians. My proposition is that most musicians play music; but in the case of a few truly great musicians - and only when the planets are auspiciously aligned as they were yesterday - the music plays the musician. Moreover, I would argue that the cult of the celebrity means that classical musicians who impose their ego on the music are, quite wrongly, prized more than those who simply serve the music.

The quote comes from Fazal Inayat Khan. He was the grandson of Sufi master musician and teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan who has featured here many times, and a biographer describes Fazal Inayat Khan as:

A mystic, poet, psychotherapist and publisher, he was a magnetic and controversial genius who provoked both lasting affection and deep antipathy, sometimes simultaneously... Perhaps nothing exemplified this more than the motorcycle adventures he led in India. These were weeks long, open ended journeys throughout the subcontinent where the ostensible destination (say an ashram in Madras) was just the placeholder for the true destination — the self.
In exactly the same way, musicians are just placeholders for the true destination, the music. Releasing the potential of the music requires the generation of a little-understood but crucially important set of probabilities, in which egotism, hype, rabid self-promotion and the other default settings of celebrity culture play no part. Only when the essential conditions are met does the music play the musicians. As happened in Cambridge last night with Ken Zuckerman and Sanju Sahai.

* Concert was promoted by Cambridge University Indian Classical Arts Society. Photo is (c) Peter Nixon 2015. 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.


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