Music and the Art of Panhandling
Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune
This is a short summary of a lecture presented by Ardean Watts at the December meeting of Humanists of Utah.
“…As I left Abravanel Hall following a recent concert, I was forced to run a gauntlet of street musicians playing violin, accordion and flute, respectively, with hats in hands outstretched. I felt some guilt as I walked by them without contributing, thinking of the card I carry in my wallet listing names and addresses of the agencies offering help to vagrants, homeless and the down-and-out. The appeals printed in the symphony program or delivered to my doorstep daily in the mail are only thinly veiled variations on a similar theme…those who choose music as a vocation indirectly choose begging as an avocation. I learned the art of panhandling from Maurice Abravanel, my mentor from the day I met him in 1956 until the present moment. His death a little over two years ago scarcely diminished our relationship; the memory of his example and personality continue to be a source of strength and delight to me to this day.
“During my 32 years as a professor at the University of Utah, I often cautioned starry-eyed young music students that while music is one of the most transcendent activities of the human race, it offers few rewards when bought and sold in the marketplace. Like music, love, with all its beauties, is not expected to pay its own way…
“America’s enormous World War II effort gave us an inkling of our nation’s capabilities when we dedicate our full resources to something. For instance, a national road system was considered necessary for future defense and development of our industry. Within a few years, we had a highway system that is a wonder of the world. The billions of dollars put into our highways should also be seen as a subsidy to the automobile and oil industries… America’s priorities seem to be of a material order…I hope it will never be forgotten that American contributions to rebuilding war-ravished Western Europe included aid for the reconstruction of cathedrals, opera houses, and concert halls, as well as industry…
“Artists were not always beggars; before they were beggars, they were slaves. Popular musicians, then and now, were the exception, going from place to place selling their wares to whoever would pay a few pence for some moments of levity and delight. They were numbered with traveling salesmen, jugglers, and town criers. At the same time there was a substantial academic artistic establishment supported by large churches and monasteries. They decorated the places of worship and beautified the literature. Their pay was bread and water and promises of paradise. The secular establishment developed its own form of patronage. Each court maintained musicians and artists along with housekeepers and field workers. Their duties were to fulfill the whims of their patrons. In rare cases they were allowed sufficient freedom to function as creative artists. Bach, Mozart and Haydn are examples of people of genius whose patrons allowed them sufficient breathing room to nurture the growth and natural expression of their abilities.”
Mr. Watts then presented a brief history of music and musicians with particular attention to the effects that Beethoven had. Beethoven moved music from a pastime of a special class and made it broadly human and available.
“…In 1826 President John Quincy Adams proposed a ‘Plan for the Permanent Encouragement of the Fine Arts by the National Government’ that failed to get the support of Congress. Theodore Roosevelt appointed a Fine Arts Council that collapsed for lack of funds. Adam’s dream finally became reality in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy established a President’s Advisory Council on the Arts, followed two years later by the National Endowment for the Arts established by Congress and signed into law by Lyndon Johnson…
“…Jane Alexander, National Director of the NEA, told the Utah Town Meeting…that ‘not-for-profit arts in this country are responsible for over one million jobs and $3.4 billion back to the Federal government in income tax revenue from an economy that can be described conservatively as $36.8 billion in direct expenditures alone. It is estimated that every dollar the endowment gives generates about $11-$26 in any given community.'”
Mr. Watts traced arts in Utah from the commitment of early Mormon pioneers to the more pragmatic current leadership. In the ’60’s our schools were an example to the rest of the nation. Today Utah ranks 50th in the ratio of professional arts teachers to the total state student enrollment.
Mr. Watts’ closing thoughts were two bumper stickers: Fear No Art and Practice Random Kindness And Senseless Acts Of Beauty. “After all, the best art may be how we live our lives, the kindness we promote, the beauty we share.”
Its Time to Get Back to Work
The following is part of an essay written by Garrison Keillor reflecting on the fact that “In Autumn We All Get Older Again.”
A sense of mortality should make us smarter. Life is short, so you do your work. You spend more time attending to music and art and literature, less time arguing politics. You plant trees. You cook spaghetti sauce. You talk to children. You don’t let your life be eaten by salesmen and evangelists and the circuses of the media. The Trial of the Century was a pure waste of time. It was a tar pit, and nobody who went into it came our smarter or kinder or happier or more enlightened. It had no redeeming aspects; it taught nothing. Midwestern farm boys can get 18 years in prison for raising marijuana; rich people can walk away from murder: everyone knew that. Time to get back to work.
Loss of Empathy
The increasing boorishness, anger and violence in our society is causing growing concern for our individual safety and our community future. Religious leaders claim it’s the result of taking prayer out of public schools and theology out of government. To me it is more likely the result of culture changes described by author Jeff Greenfield in his current novel, The Peoples Choice.
There was a time not so long ago when a major event had the power to pull us together, to share history side by side. Our grandparents flocked to the telegraph office and listened to the telegrapher shout out the latest news clattering in, one letter at a time. They stood, shivering outside the newspaper office, watching the numbers chalked up on a black board, to learn who had won the presidency. They crowded together on a downtown street, craning their necks up at the skyscraper around which electronic bulletins flashed. Our parents surrounded parked cars, leaning in to catch every muffled, tinny word blaring from the car radio, or they huddled outside an appliance store to watch the flickering images of a baseball game.
Today we lack most of that communal sense of drama; we sit at home, alone, to watch spaceships explode and wars begin and earthquakes shred a city. Gathered in our separate shelter, it is not always easy to connect with the common grief or joy or lust or fear.
Imagine our ancestors sometime between 30,000 and 200,000 years ago gazing at the sky considering the solstice. Then, as now, there must have been two basic approaches to nature: fear and wonder. Unfortunately fear is the stronger emotion. Its legacies include myth, superstition, religion, and authoritarian governments and rulers.
Those who stood in wonder were able, through empirical observations, to explain the natural phenomenon of the solstice. The progeny of wonder are the arts, the sciences, and the humanities.
It is unlikely that most people approach the unknown exclusively with either fear or wonder. We all have a different mixtures of these two basic emotions. Our challenge is to try to suppress the fears, and then experience and explain the wonders.
I recently checked out an audio tape Natural Science and The Planet Earth narrated by Edwin Newman from the Whitmore Library. I listened to it while driving back from St. George. It took nearly the entire trip to listen to both tapes. I found it to be an excellent “testimony of humanism” and made the drive much more enjoyable as well as educational.
The Nov/Dec 1995 issue of The Humanist is an outstanding AHA publication. For our chapter members who are also AHA members I urge you to particularly read the articles by Barbara Dority, Michael C. Milam, Arthur Falk and Kendrick Frazier. These four articles concern various aspects of Humanism that help to define our philosophy and our reason for being, both as individuals and as an organization. This issue represents the content, editorial and artistic changes that our editor Fred Edwords is in the process of making to give our national publication more relevancy and definition. I am so impressed with the issue that I requested AHA to send complimentary copies to the 35 Utah Chapter members who are not members of our national organization. It is my hope that they will find the improved magazine so interesting that they will become members of the American Humanist Association. I have a dream that our chapter will gain recognition for having the highest percentage of its members as also being members of our national organization.
When I became convinced that the universe is natural–that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the world–not even in infinite space. I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live to my own ideal–free to live for myself and those I loved–free to use all my facilities, all my senses–free to spread imagination’s wings–free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope–free to judge and determine for myself–free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past–free from popes and priests–free from all the “called” and “set apart”–free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies–free from the fear of eternal pain–free from the winged monsters of the night–free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There was no prohibited places in all the realms of thought–no air, no space, where fancy could spread her painted wings–no chains for my limbs–no lashes for my back–no fires for my flesh–no master’s frown or threat–no following another’s steps–no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain–for the freedom of labor and thought–to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound in chains–to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.
Living Mindfully in the Present
Recently, a friend gave me a meaningful little book called, Peace is every Step. This small book is an invitation to live and encounter life in the present moment and find peace and joy. Following is one of my favorite stories expressed by the author, Thich Nhat Hanh, a world renowned Zen Master.
There is a story about a flower which is well known in the Zen circles. One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha’s gesture. Then suddenly the Buddha smiled. He smiled because a monk in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. The name of that Monk was Mahakashyapa. He was the only person who smiled, and the Buddha smiled back and said, “I have a treasure of insight, and I have transmitted it to Mahakashyapa.” That story has been discussed by many generations of Zen students, and people continue to look for its meaning. To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled.
That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything. When a child presents himself to you with his smile, if you are not really there–thinking about the future or the past, or preoccupied with other problems–then the child is not really there for you. The technique of being alive is to go back to yourself in order for the child to appear like a marvelous reality. Then you can see him smile and you can embrace him in your arms.
I would like to share a poem with you, written by a friend of mine who died at the age of twenty-eight in Saigon, about thirty years ago. It has just a few short lines, but it is very beautiful:
Standing quietly by the fence,
you smile your wondrous smile.
I am speechless, and my senses are filled
by the sounds of your beautiful song,
beginningless and endless.
I bow deeply to you.
“You” refers to a flower, a dahlia. That morning as he passed by a fence, he saw that little flower very deeply and, struck by the sight of it, he stopped and wrote that poem.
I enjoyed this poem very much. You might think that the poet was a mystic, because his way of looking and seeing things is very deep. But he was just an ordinary person like any one of us. I don’t know how or why he was able to look and see like that, but it is exactly the way we practice mindfulness. We try to be in touch with life and look deeply as we drink our tea, walk, sit down, or arrange flowers. The secret of the success is that you are really yourself, and when you are really yourself, you can encounter life in the present moment.
I thank the author and my friend for this jewel of a book. Hopefully, I will become more mindful of each act of daily life.
Nature’s Most Awesome and Complex Creation: The Human Mind
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
Richard Leakey, in The Origin of Humankind , defines consciousness as self-awareness. Each of us experiences life through the medium of consciousness. It is so powerful that it is impossible to imagine our existence without it.
The source of sense of self, private or shared with others.
A channel for reaching worlds beyond material objects, through imagination.
What can a conscious entity do for itself that an unconscious simulation of it can’t? Organisms need to predict the future, but computers also have this ability. Oxford University zoologist Richard Dawkins says, “perhaps consciousness arises when the brain’s simulation of the world becomes so complete that it must include a model of itself.” Leakey takes the evolutionary point-of-view that consciousness conferred survival benefits and was the product of natural selection. Language is a tool of communication, but it is also a further means by which mental reality is honed.
Not only the size, but also the organization, of the hominid brain changed through evolution. Both the brains of apes and of humans are organized on the same basic pattern with one important difference: in apes the occipital lobe in the back of the brain is larger than the frontal lobes while in humans this pattern is reversed.
Our gradually unfolding consciousness changed us into a new kind of animal, one that sets arbitrary standards of behavior based upon what one considers to be right or wrong.
The harsh reality is that the questions archaeologists face about our ancestors’ level of consciousness during the past 2.5 million years may be unanswerable because of the difficulties of obtaining evidence. However, one human activity from the prehistoric record, deliberate burial of the dead, is redolent of human consciousness. It shows an awareness of death, and thus an awareness of self. The first evidence of deliberate burial is of a Neanderthal a little more than 100,000 years ago.
Before 100,000 years ago there is no evidence of any kind of ritual that might betray consciousness, nor is there evidence of any art. The absence of such evidence does not definitively prove the absence of consciousness, nor can it be adduced in support of its existence. Modern humans became like us with respect to consciousness when they spoke like us and experienced the self as we do. The first sure evidence of this is in the art of Europe and Africa along with elaborate burial from about 35,000 years ago.
Every human society has an origin myth, the most fundamental story of all. Ever since reflective consciousness burned brightly in the human mind, mythology and religion have been a part of human history. Consciousness is a social tool for understanding the behavior of others by modeling it on one’s own feelings. It is natural that in our myths we attribute these same motives to important non-human aspects of the world. Human minds are connected across millennia by an awareness of self and an awe at the miracle of life.