Saturday, August 20, 2016

All is fair in art and context

7:00am. Having woken up rather too early for a Saturday morning, I sit in my living room and drowsily attempt to theoretically analyze Three Movements from Petrushka, while sipping my morning coffee and watching the beautiful sun rise from behind the Coloane Alto...

If only I were able to rise as quickly. The coffee, though strong, is not helping yet - much at the expense of Stravinsky. For a short while, I try to fight the weariness and trudge onwards with my task, indicating the various chords, scales, and observations on the score in uncharacteristically poor handwriting, but the moment I suddenly realize that I had read the wrong clef for an entire page is the final straw on the camel's back. I close my book in frustration and inexorably turn to the clandestine realm of both the sleepless and the sleep-deprived: the internetz. 

Tired but not wishing to be entirely unproductive, I decide to watch the Petrushka ballet on YouTube for yet another time, in order to gain a more clear understanding of the narrative. As I see the Bolshoi Ballet Company's poignant choreography - evocatively portraying the main character's delirious irrationality, his creator's callousness, and society's obliviousness - I start to reflect more deeply on the process of performing pieces based on stories, and my role as a pianist to weave the story convincingly for my audiences. How should the score be interpreted to reflect the beautiful narrative? Also, how different an approach is required for such a work than that of a non-narrative piece, like a Beethoven sonata? 

A little contemplation reveals that meaning plays a crucial role in these aspects of music interpretation, or in any other instance in the world for that matter. What notes, elements, and phrases I choose to make meaningful will shape my entire approach, and will ultimately either make or break the piece. Meaning is what brings music to life, allowing it to soar through the skies and inspire our most fanciful dreams or drag us through the depths of our darkest fears.  In the human world, imparting the wrong amount of meaning or imparting meaning on the wrong things are causes for much delusion. The quest for meaning motivates people to fall in love, fall in hate, and cling like tendrils to ideology. In fact, it was this very quest that drove poor Petrushka into passionately loving the Ballerina despite her obvious shortsightedness and superficiality. But knowing all the confusion surrounding meaning, how can I be sure I'm making the right things meaningful in all the music I play? 

So far, I can confidently pin down three fundamental truths about meaning in all art forms: 1. The decision of how much meaning to impart depends on the literalism or subjectivity with which the work is perceived, 2. Literal or subjective perception depends on the amount of context a particular piece of art contains, and 3. The more context there is, the more literally the music should be perceived, and the less context there is, the more subjectively it should be perceived. 

Yes I know, this discourse has the potential to turn into a labyrinthine mindfuck. Please bear with me and I'll try my best not to let that happen. 

Context is an indispensable part of art. Just as science relies only on hard evidence to prove any hypothesis, art relies entirely on context to justify any decision, including the imparting of meaning. However, unlike science, art is something that affects people in different ways, which makes it extremely subjective. There's also the issue of accepting uncertainty: unlike science, in which we will always find more evidence to validate a theory, art does not always naturally contain a lot of context, neither is it possible to know the full story as it is created by malleable human brains - not nature. It's unfortunately due to these reasons that context in art is often shoved out of the spotlight and not taken as seriously as evidence is in scientific fields. I have previously written about the mumbo-jumbo circulating in the classical music industry, and how the subjective nature of music paradoxically generates dogmatic opinions. This is only because the context in which music is written has not been properly understood, and as a result, people resort to fabricating contextual details to justify their personal preferences - also the same reasons people often try fabricating evidence in science. When any attempt at comprehension is made, the years-old musical scores are looked to, but they hold such little concrete information that trying to derive "correct" interpretation from them is entirely baseless and uninformed. Contextual details can be found from more sources than just the score - including history, verified literature, and the composer's own notes and interviews - but even this is sometimes not enough. 

As a blogger second to a concert pianist, I've seen that the same problem plagues words and literature as well as music. If we take a walk into history, this similarity is hardly surprising, as words and music are kissing cousins that evolved from a common ancestor: sound. When our caveman ancestors wanted to express their ideas and emotions, they used sound to create a communicative system which over the years grew larger and more complex. When they wanted to express their artistry, they isolated pure tones from the clustered sounds they heard in nature and arranged them in organized patterns - also making these arrangements more and more complex and codifying music theory up till today. The wider these fields became, the more perspectives were added to the mix, so while some heads turned up to the sky, others went straight in the sand. Both words and music have been used to express radical ideas to liberate humanity (for example, Martin Luther King's speeches, or John Lennon's music), as well as to control people through dogma and facilitate oppression (such as religious texts, and in music, the brigade of puritanical assholes that was the Council of Trent). 

A good way to understand humankind's perception of art is the Platonic Theory of Forms. Plato posited that our idea about something is more powerful than the thing itself - an assertion that could go both ways. Through some contemplation, I have found that though our ideas are very powerful, they are not always accurate. For example, if I saw an apple tree, and tried to explain to a friend what that apple tree looked like, I would never be able to succeed, as her imagination of the apple tree (constructed from my words) would never truly resemble the actual apple tree. This goes for all natural entities (like trees, animals, humans, objects) - our perception of that entity would never align fully with the entity itself, and the entity will always remain the most powerful. However, when it comes to that which is man-created, like all art forms including words and music, the initial conception of the creator of that art is most accurate. However, its power rests not in itself, but in how people perceive it. The effectiveness of a composition or speech depends on who's listening, as every person is moved by art in different ways. 

For these reasons, one could say that all is fair in art. This is correct, as art is a product of our very complex human minds, but none of it would be perceived with fairness without understanding context. To simplify this understanding, I have formulated what I call my Artistic Hierarchy of Context, in which I will compare the contextual content of both language and music side by side from the most basic unit (a single note and a single letter) to the most complex (a whole piece of music and a piece of prose or poetry). Each level indicates increased context. Note that this only serves as a
basic guide, as art rests on a vast spectrum - not a series of carefully curated boxes, and ultimately      should be understood on a case by-case basis:

Level 1 - One note = One letter 
Music: The middle C  
Literature: The letter A

At this point, we don't have much information at all. The only context we have is position and quality. We know what the note C sounds like, and its position on the keyboard. In accordance, we know how to pronounce the letter A, and its position as the first letter of the alphabet. That's it. Both are simply building blocks of larger entities, and have no meaning in and of themselves. Therefore, there are no "good" or "bad" notes or letters. An 'A' could belong to any word or sentence, and a 'C' could belong to any phrase of music. Is the A part of the word "apple"? Does the C imply C minor? Millions of possibilities exist. 

Since these basic units have the minimum amount of context, they can be perceived in a multitude of ways - hence their subjectivity. Even though it's impossible for words and notes to be inherently good, bad, or ugly, people feel very differently about them due to their mindsets, abilities, and experiences. For instance, my non-musician father knows where a C is on a keyboard but feels nothing when a C is played in front of him, whereas I start to see pure white and get an oddly secure feeling when I hear one because I have both perfect pitch and color synesthesia. Someone else could be emotionally triggered by the note C in either a positive or negative way, depending upon how their experiences conditioned them. I'm sure the same applies to letters as well, as the letter/color synesthetic author Vladimir Nabokov might tell you. 

However, these are all individual perceptions, and don't change the fact that a C is a C, and an A is an A, and both hold no more contextual information than their sound and placement.

Moving on...

Level 2 - One musical motif = One word 
Music: These four notes:
Literature: The word "cat" 

Alright, things just got a little bit more complex. At this point, we are given definitions. Everyone knows what a cat is, and musicians would immediately associate the very well-known group of notes above with the key of C minor and subsequently, Beethoven's 5th. But at a deeper level, these definitions are still contextually bankrupt. What kind of cat is implied here? A house cat or a cheetah? And even though this particular group of notes fits directly into our mental sets as Beethoven's 5th, they could be harmonized in pretty much any progression! I didn't show you the rest of the music around this motif. Ives' Concord Sonata quotes the same notes. What tells you that these notes aren't part of E flat major, or G minor, or even a modulation from a distant key? The human mind is naturally reliant on patterns and association and that's a great advantage to us, but sometimes we need to get past that in order to see things for what they are, and in this case, this motif is just four notes and nothing more. 

At this point, it's still contextually impossible for a word or motif to be inherently good or bad. Yes, words and motifs make great impacts due to their definitions, but they can't be positive or negative at the core. The late great George Carlin describes this excellently in his Seven Dirty Words monologue. There are no bad words, he says, only bad intentions. Yet somehow, there are some special words which are frowned upon in society and get bleeped into oblivion on TV and most public media (thankfully not the Internet!), regardless of the context in which they are used. Furthermore, people are trying to censor other words in the name of being "politically correct", such as the word "retard". These people call for banning use of the word in media, and referring to it as "the R-word" to avoid offending the mentally challenged. What they don't understand is that the word doesn't really mean much on its own, but it's the intention behind it that brings it to life. Moreover, the definition of the word has completely changed over the years, and in today's world, "retard" is used to decry unfathomable stupidity - not to disparage the disabled. A driver might yell "Retard!" at someone who rudely cuts in front of him, but that doesn't make him ableist. In fact, the people rallying against the word are being ableist themselves, as they still equate the word with disability despite the modern-day definition. If they really wish to inculpate words on grounds of etymology, they would also have to protest "idiot", "moron", and "imbecile", as these words have discriminatory origins as well, but let's not give them any ideas. Wait, they already have those ideas? Dracula's toilet just called, it wants its batshit back.

So even though the Political Correctness Army thinks they're making the world a more pluralistic, 
compassionate place by boycotting words, all they're accomplishing is flagrantly disregarding the 
truths of context. And being fucking retarded. 

Level 3 - A musical phrase = a sentence
Music: This opening of Chopin's 3rd ballade: 
Literature: The cat sat on the mat. 

Now we have a full string of individual units creating a small but coherent whole. A musical or linguistic sentence can be inherently good, bad, or neutral (like "The cat sat on the mat"). Good phrases in music would be effective, meaningful, and structurally consistent - whatever structure they may follow. Bad phrases would leave a bad impression on the ears, as they would lack in both pattern and coherence. Aleatoric (chance) music or stream-of-consciousness writing, lack in overt patterns, but they fall into the neutral category, as the pattern is not having a pattern. 

Poorly constructed linguistic sentences may severely lack in both effectiveness and veracity. People often say that "words hurt", but what they really mean is that sentences hurt. For instance, the sentence "Women are dumb" is obviously bad, because it stinks of horrible sexist bias and contains not one iota of truth. However, with this added information comes a caveat. What if this sentence was being said sarcastically? Then it would suddenly not be "bad" anymore. More importantly, if this sentence is so objectively bad, what's it doing on my blog? Someone who hates me could practically lift the words "Women are dumb" from this post, quote me out of context, and label me a sexist. Similarly, one can extract any transitional phrase from a brilliant piece of music and pan it as ridiculous and nonsensical without accounting for the other phrases as a reference.

Just like "bad" sentences can become good in this manner,  "good" sentences could also become bad, and lead to bad actions. Woody Allen describes the dangers of quote-worshiping in his film, Irrational Man. Abe Lucas, the washed-up protagonist, accepts an offer to teach at a university after years of a successful writing career. The whole school is abuzz due to his exciting reputation, with both professors and students awaiting his arrival. One of the professors wryly remarks that Abe will "add some Viagra into the philosophy department".

But little did they know that Mr. Lucas himself needed truckloads of the stuff. Here was a professor who, armed with a way with words and a wealth of knowledge, had documented his observations about the findings of major philosophers in bestselling books. However, he also had a penchant for playing the role of a "tortured artist" (or histrionic manwhore, take your pick), and mostly drank his way through life. But as with most people who use such things as coping mechanisms, life eventually drank its way through him, and when that point came he realized how all the philosophical theories he had so painstakingly studied and enthusiastically extolled were nothing more than superficial paraphernalia in the context of his own life, having no practical applications whatsoever. Still, this doesn't stop his awestruck admirers (especially wide-eyed Jill) from fawning over his supposed wisdom and dismissing the extent of their intelligence in his presence. In essence, Abe Lucas turns out to be little more than a metaphysical charlatan who's a master at dishing out pseudo-profundities to elicit awe and approval, and the lust-crazed groupies who gullibly idolize him are so dumb they could fuck a doorknob. 

In the wake of his existential crisis, Abe overhears the plight of a divorced mother who could lose custody of her children because of a corrupt family court judge. The woman tearfully wishes that the judge would get cancer and die, so that she could have justice. Abe suddenly finds his life's purpose to murder the judge, in order to improve the condition of the world by removing the suffering of that woman. He rationalizes his hilarious delusions with some excellent (but context-less) quotes of philosophers, including Sartre's "Hell is other people" and Kierkegaard's "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom". While these sentences are true, they don't reveal which situations they are applicable in when standing alone. While asserting that people should pursue freedom in action, Kierkegaardian ethics also specify that freedom is meaningless without responsibility. But Abe doesn't understand anything beyond the sentences that affirm his actions (classic confirmation bias), and as a result, refuses to be held accountable. He basks in the carnal excitement of his cold-blooded killing, but is willing to let someone else go to prison for his crime. When Jill confronts him to come clean and turn himself in, he plots to murder her as well - a plot that quite karmically leads to his own demise. 

At the end, we are left with two pointless deaths, all because a psychopath took a few good quotes completely out of context. Case in point: a sentence is still meaningless on its own without knowledge of the other sentences that frame it. So to all the people who rely on soundbites to justify arguments and actions instead of real evidence (looking right at you, Donald Trump), I think I just saw that doorknob over there wink at you. Maybe you should go introduce yourself. Thank me later. 

Level 4 - Non-narrative pieces = poetry 
Music: Beethoven's Sonata op. 109 
Literature: Allen Ginsberg's Howl 

Now that the basic components of both music and language have been covered, we finally have full pieces containing ideas that begin and end. Non-narrative pieces like Mozart's sonatas or Chopin's concertos do not follow a continuous storyline, but rather are based on moods and feelings of the composer, which makes them more contextually open. Beethoven composed his Appassionata sonata under the anguish of going deaf, but interpretations vary greatly and either emphasize his sadness, anger, or despondency. Similarly, most poetry (except maybe for ballads) doesn't have a continuous story line, but rather consists of the author's observations about a particular instance, such as love or death - like Allen Ginsberg's beat poem, Howl. These works of art are the most subjective, as their creators have purposely structured them to be interpreted in multiple ways and speak to listeners and readers differently based on their own experiences. It was this aim to "trick" people that actually led to Ginsberg's laughable obscenity trial, in which a bunch of obnoxious professors stepped up to the podium in court to argue over whether Howl could be considered a valid work of literature or not. 

Within both non-narrative and narrative music, the specificity of score markings varies greatly. For instance, Beethoven's scores are extremely detailed, and he intended every marking and Italian indication to be taken seriously. Brahms didn't much care for markings, and chose to leave many of these technicalities for the performer to figure out. It's important to keep in mind that the amount of markings don't exactly have a bearing on context, as they depend on the style and conventions of the composer. They only offer easy means to structure and convey ideas, but do not precisely link to perception. I remember when I was working on Beethoven's op.109 a few years ago, and came upon these sixteenth notes in the second variation of the third movement, marked leggieramente (as lightly as possible):

Now, I knew that op.109 is one of Beethoven's last sonatas, and expresses both gravitas and reflectiveness. This particular section is among the happier, deliciously scintillating moments in the piece, so I decided to emphasize the rests and play the notes on the shorter side to showcase its lightness. A teacher I played it for advocated a different approach: lengthening the notes, but playing them more softly to convey the same lightness I was striving for, which made for a very interesting sound quality. Fast forward a year later, I watched Richard Goode teach the piece in a masterclass. Mr. Goode posited that sustaining the notes even the slightest would sound cumbersome and heavy, and that an approach similar to what I had initially conceived would give much-needed liveliness to the excerpt. Both views are in accordance with the composer's wishes, and this is how Beethoven the Genius had intended us to interpret his musical poetry: to feel his emotions deeply and follow his scores diligently, but never bottle his music up in a jar of semantics. 

Level 5 - Narrative pieces - Fictional prose
Music: Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka 
Literature: Punch and Judy (which the story of Petrushka originated from) 

When a composer depicts a continuous story through the music, there is no emotional "trick" anymore, as the musical elements represent instances of the story. Therefore, there is an extra need for literalism and attention to the individual elements of the piece, as the context of the work is quite clearly expressed at all times by default. To answer the initial question about a Beethoven sonata and Petrushka, both call for an equal attention to meaning, but in diverse ways: Beethoven requires the pianist to explore emotions in a deeper, wider, and more general sense as there is less context available to us, whereas Stravinsky requires the pianist to identify which specific instances in the piece he or she finds most emotional, as the story lays out a clearer contextual pathway to walk on. This degree of specificity does make life a bit easier, as there are less decisions to be made by the performer, but it also sparks new questions about originality and creating a "signature" interpretation. For instance, how exactly would I put a "Tussah" stamp on Petrushka, if the imaginative part has already been stamped for me? 

The answer lies somewhere in the fact that, even though Stravinsky already made the theoretical decisions for me, the practical decisions are still my responsibility. The story was not created as a definitive rulebook, but rather as a helpful guideline, and a musician's personal feelings, opinions, and perceptions have a great impact on the resulting interpretation. To put it simply, it's very clear what is supposed to be communicated at all times during the music, but how it's communicated is up to me. "How" refers to in what manner I choose to depict an instance in the music, and the amount of meaning I choose to impart into each note, element, and phrase. This differs among all interpretations. For instance, I find the scene in the music when Petrushka knocks his head on the wall in desperation, begging the Ballerina to come back poignantly striking, and emphasize it either with exaggerated dynamics, special articulations, change in timing, etc., whereas another pianist may find the moment when Petrushka passionately throws his hands in the air lamenting the Ballerina's departure more musically important and do the same.

Thus, this is where subjectivity lies in narrative pieces. Once the story is both understood and internalized, it's never wrong - scratch that - it's absolutely necessary to emphasize (or de-emphasize) various scenes of the piece in order to make it unique. The only great sin of interpretation - and this applies to all music regardless of its contextual content - would be to markedly emphasize every single note, element, or phrase in effort to make them all meaningful. I once heard a professor quip to a student during a masterclass, "You must play with your heart on fire, but your mind on ice. If you make every single note so cloyingly sentimental, you would sound like a conductor who has an orgasm every time his hand moves!" 

As awesome as it would be to be that conductor, the fact remains that such an ability would soon grow repetitive and exhausting, and be absolutely no fun for anyone else. Similarly, if every note is made to be meaningful in a piece of music, then no note would be meaningful as a result, and everything would be quite anticlimactic to say the least. Or should I say over-climactic?

Level 6 - Serialism/formulaic music - "Holy" books and other instructional allegorical prose 
Music: Anything by the Second Viennese School 
Literature: The Bible, Koran, Torah, etc. 

I'll admit that this is a very eclectic matchup, but it's exceedingly logical. Serialist composers strove for total control over the aspects of music, and thoroughly eschewed such cowardly things as emotion, passion, and feelings. Luciano Berio once mused, "Alas, this industrialized twelve-tone horse, dull on the outside and empty inside, constantly being perfected and dragged to a new Troy in shadow of an ideological war long since fought and won by responsible minds like Schoenberg, with neither systems nor scholarship for armor!" Perfection is essential, and each form of a twelve-tone row (prime, inversion, retrograde, and retrograded-inversion) rule over the music with an iron fist, dictating motivic direction, development, and technical details. Take, for example, one of Messiaen's modes of limited transposition, in which every single note of the row has been associated with an immutable dynamic marking:

As one can see, there is no room for cherry-picking in the world of serialism. All the rules the ecomposer has laid down are absolute. If he or she has stated that a form of a tone row is to be played forte each time it appears, it must be unquestioningly played forte. If the composer specifies that every E in the piece should be played staccato, then every E had better be staccato. In some compositions, even the manner in which the staccato should be played has been specified. A serialist interpreter can't sit and decide for herself that she will follow some of these rules, yet disregard others at whim. This stringency is innate to the style of music, and without it, the work would not be considered serialist anymore, and might as well not be played at all. The core mathematical and musical patterns at the heart of the composer's vision for the piece would be broken, and not at all heard by listeners. The key is simple: either follow all the rules, or ditch the music if you disagree with even a single one. 

Fortunately, serialism has never led to widespread decimation of progress and peace, unlike some other "-isms" in the world. Serialism and religious/allegorical texts are contextually alike because they both were conceived as extremely literal guides, requiring utmost, unemotional adherence. In order to truly follow a religion and call oneself a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, etc., one must subscribe to its tenets without any doubts or exceptions, as that's the purpose they were written to serve. Even though the regulations are explained through metaphor, the resulting moral lessons are not to be understood as metaphors themselves. 

However, the contradictory nature of the rules makes this task virtually impossible, which inexorably leads to hypocrisy. So-called Christian "absolute moralists" cherry-pick parts of their holy book to indulge their fascist fantasies, and yammer on about the Bible's addled verses on sexuality while willfully overlooking the verses forbidding shellfish and wearing mixed materials. On the flip side, "moderate" religious folks, unlike their fundamentalist counterparts, entirely snub the negative, untrue aspects of their dogmas and insist that no "true" Christian would be sexist or homophobic, or that ISIS are not "real" Muslims, just because the Bible and Koran contain mundane platitudes about universal love and goodwill - none of which could be considered exclusive to any religious text or moral story in the world. These people somehow manage to rationalize belief in books that condone violence, hatred, and inequality at their core, yet claim that the god they were written on behalf of is benevolent. Fundamentalists follow only the vengeful verses of their holy books and ignore the merciful ones, and the "moderate" religious look only to the merciful verses and ignore the vengeful ones. But the fact remains that neither can logically call themselves true believers, and both groups are grossly violating the terms of their texts. Their literature openly dictates strict, non-negotiable adherence to all their rules in the precise manner of serialism - not fluid, subjective, and selective interpretation required for non-narrative music and poetry. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between serialism and religious texts is that while the former largely aims for extreme straightforwardness and pattern-oriented clarity, the latter sets people up to fail from the start with convoluted contradictions. Whatever you do, you will always suck at your religion. But don't worry, it's not you - it's because your religious writings themselves suck. If you don't believe me, just ask your battered slaves and wives. Which calls into question: why even attempt to follow them to begin with? Bill Maher summed it up succinctly when he remarked, "I always say to my religious friends, if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in?" Forget one turd - most holy books are overflowing cesspools of Bronze Age ramblings which should've been edited or gone the way of the dinosaur by now. In such doctrines that demand all or nothing, nothing is the more contextual (and moral) choice. Or perhaps converting to serialism is the more contextual choice - as far as I can remember, it has never killed anyone. Maybe if the religious turned to Berg and Webern instead of God, the world would be a more educated (if not a more crashingly atonal) place. That's a movement I could get behind. All hail our Lord and Savior, Arnold Schoenberg. Amen. 

Fuck, I miss Liszt and Rachmaninov just thinking about all this. I guess it's not a movement I could get behind after all. 

So that concludes my explanation of the different levels of musical and linguistic context. Of course, even despite one's best efforts, misunderstanding will always be a part of reality of life as a human, and especially life as an artist. There is no surefire way to avoid delusion in any subjective field, but I've found that examining the rules of meaning and creativity in a compartmentalized fashion makes decision-making a lot easier. As tempting as it is to jump to conclusions, it is always important to remember that truth is what holds up perceptions and makes them valid, and that all is fair in art and context...

Friday, June 17, 2016

My conversation with Donald Trump

Hello, my dear readers. Through a series of unlikely events*, I managed to sit down and have a conversation with none other than the man of the hour, Donald J. Trump. Since it's not everyday that you get to sit down with one of the world's most influential businessmen and media moguls - much less, the Republican presidential nominee - I've decided to document our illuminating correspondence. Overall, I found that Mr. Trump and I have more in common than I initially thought. He's a great appreciator of classical music and knows more about it than you would imagine. Our conversation follows below:

Me: It's really crazy that I'm here talking to you right now. Thanks for taking time out of your hectic schedule of bragging about your net worth to have this little chat. 

Trump: Well, Miss Heera, the pleasure is mine and mine entirely. See, you saved my life today. 

Me: I'm not sure I understand? 

Trump: (hesitates) Can I let you in on a huge secret? 

Me: If you wish.

Trump: When I'm not speaking or being interviewed, I get ill. I mean, physically ill. I could die. If I didn't talk to you right now, I would be left with a whole hour before my next interview - a whole hour! What on earth was I going to do till then? My precious hair would've started crawling back into my head and my skin would've shriveled up like a raisin! 

Me: Well, I didn't know that. But somehow, it doesn't surprise me in the slightest. All this aside, though, what I really wanted to discuss with you is your undying love for classical music. A little while back, you told me that you have a special adoration for Bach. 

Trump: Yes, that's absolutely true. See, the thing is, most composers were either gay commies like Copland, or lazy motherfuckers relying on government handouts like that illegal alien Frederic. But it was only Bach who was committed and didn't let anything stand in the way of creating his masterpieces. He was like, "Hey, all of you patsy composers need lessons 'cause you don't know shit! I'm going to make music great again!" 

Me: Wait, when you mentioned a "Frederic" earlier, did you mean Frederic Chopin? 

Trump: Hell yeah, I meant Chopin. Pesky little loser jumped over the border to France when the goings got tough in Poland. Then he composed that traitorous song called "Revolutionary Etude" or something. Such nerve! 

Me: You do realize that there's not exactly a "border" to jump over between Poland and France, right? You'd have to jump over the whole of Germany. Also Chopin was a refugee who was forced to flee his country during the Russian occupation. His poignant harmonies and evocative bel canto melodies are a testament to the heartbreak, helplessness, and denial faced in his life, as well as the few glimmers of hope and love that his life offered him. I personally think his music speaks for all of us, in different ways, don't you think? 

Trump: (rolls eyes) Boo hoo. There you go, crying about those "poor refugees" just like the crazy prime minister of the country you're studying in. I'm warning you - you won't be in Canada for very long before it becomes Canuckistan, you liberal elitist piano girl! As for Mr. Chopin, he didn't understand right from wrong and the true values of music, unlike my man J.S. 

Me: And what exactly are these true values, Mr. Trump? 

Trump: Take one of my favorite pieces in the wide world - the Goldberg Variations. Right away, Bach lets us know that G major is the supreme key. So pure and holy - only one black note in it, if you catch my drift. Just like the dream I have for America. It rules over the whole piece, as is its rightful place, without any other keys butting in and adding their degenerate ways into the mix. Only G major has the authority to drive this great work, endlessly vary the theme, and carry it on till the end with grace, valor, and an iron fist. Bach made sure that every note outside of G major knew its place. What people don't realize is that we have a crisis now, Tussah. During the Romantic era, unlicensed and undocumented notes just began waltzing into the middle of music and invading keys they don't belong in, and it has gotten so much worse since then. You do realize that when foreign notes cross the borders of a key, they're not bringing their best. They're bringing their drugged-up Neapolitan sixths and sleazy deceptive cadences along with them. And boy, do Chopin and the others enable them - bunch of immigrant-sympathizing wimps! My grandparents did not come all the way from Germany to America just to hear such awful drivel. 

Me: You seem to be very passionate about this.

Trump: Damn right, I am. The saddest part is that composers today don't even care what keys their pieces are in. They don't realize that they're destroying the fabric and foundation of music itself. All this polytonality and atonality business is complete anarchy! 

Me: Well, I must beg to differ on that one. Atonal music actually represents the opposite of anarchy - rather, it tends to be highly formalistic and structured, such as Schoenberg's twelve-tone rows, or Ligeti's use of fractals and geometry in his etudes. And I'm not a particularly die-hard fan of all atonal music myself - some of it sounds like shit, sure - but I must admit that dramatic twists of polytonality add variety and interest to all music - even the tonal kind. What's the point of listening to a piece that doesn't ever change key? I think it to be rather boring. Aren't the most interesting and touching notes in the Goldberg actually the ones that are not from G major? 

Trump: You might very well think that, but that doesn't make it true.

Me: Touché. 

Trump: At some point we just have to say that wrong notes are wrong notes, you know. You just gotta say it like it is, and whether some pansy liberal statisticians or scientists claiming to be "reasonable people" think it's true or not doesn't matter. They're just jacking off to the beat of their own metronomes. The real question here - the one Mr. Bach asks - is why should we, as American taxpayers, fund those dirty E flats and A flats with our hard-earned, G major money? Let them find jobs in C minor, where they belong. We really oughtta build a wall between major and minor keys, you know, and Philip Glass should pay for it! Some of these notes are actually terrorizing our music with their warped ideologies. We need to start acknowledging radical wrong note extremism and get it the hell out of our music. These notes don't like our lifestyle and will kill every rendition they get their hands on. Anyone who disagrees is disgraceful! 

Me: I feel like you are over-generalizing the definition of "wrong note". One should distinguish between right notes that don't belong to the home key of a piece, and notes that are hit during a performance and don't belong to the piece at all - truly wrong notes. Just because a note does not belong to the home key of a piece doesn't mean it isn't a true part of the piece. These notes are honest contributors to the fabric of the music, and add great diversity to it. However, wrong notes have no other motive than to ruin a performance. Those notes - more specifically, their motives - are the ones we should be against. Additionally, we shouldn't forget that many problems can arise in notes that belong to the home key too! 

Trump: Look, if you want to kill a problem, you must begin at the root. We shouldn't let any non-key note go unchecked. Soon, all those wrong notes would learn to fear us and go back to the moron-land they came from. 

Me: Well, even for the most accurate musicians among us, invasive wrong notes are a reality of our existence. They will, sadly, always exist. But we can prevent them from occurring by taking necessary precautions, such as regulating our practicing and not letting them sound too loudly if they do occur. 

Trump: All this regulation stuff is meaningless. I say you need to bust out the right notes as loud as you can. It takes a right note played forte to stop a wrong note played forte. You have to go hard on them, or they would never take you seriously. 

Me: Wouldn't that ruin the performance even more?

Trump: Tussah, you're being naïve. You need to be armed and prepared for anything. Take the Rite of Spring premiere, for instance. Why it got so out-of-hand has always puzzled me. Imagine if Stravinsky had known how to get those rioting jackasses out of his auditorium. He should've got someone to either shoot them or knock the crap out of them, and all he would've had to do is offer to pay some legal fees. 

Me: Let's move on and talk about the piece itself. What are your impressions?  

Trump: That work was truly a product of innovation. I even think that the tribal ritual where the girl dances herself to death for the gods of Spring was pretty awesome - finally something good that came from those Muslims. 

Me: Not to belabor a great conversation with boring facts, but the Rite of Spring is actually an ancient Celtic tradition, not an Islamic one. 

Trump: Who cares? The important part is that Igor was already into promoting diversity and all that. Just look at the opening bassoon solo. Who knew that a bassoon could play in such a high register? Also I believe that that girl's fate was a lesson to us all. Torture works, guys. All you gotta do is put some real world applications to it, and then Spring comes, the terrorists know who's boss, and everyone's happy. And hats off to him for writing all those insane polyrhythms and polytonal sections which nobody dared to write before. My good friend Sarah Palin once said, "The maverickyest music is the greatest music".  

Me: Whoa, I never realized she was a classical music scholar, but those words are quite true. However, I thought you told me earlier that you didn't appreciate polytonality?

Trump: When did I say that? I love it more than anything in the world! I also need the modern composer vote. 

Me: Either way, a love for Stravinsky is definitely something we both have in common. What I love about his music is how evocative it is of nature, the human condition, and consciousness. I'm currently in the process of learning the Three Movements from Petrushka, transcribed for piano by the composer, and I'm investigating how the musical elements of the piece relate to the narrative. The story is somewhat like Pinocchio - a magician brings three puppets to life, and leaves them to experience human emotions, such as love and loss. Do you have any comments about this work?

Trump: You know Tussah, the more I talk to you, the more I'm contemplating instating a mandatory Stravinsky course at Trump University, after I get all the legal mumbo-jumbo sorted out. I think everyone needs to learn about him. Petrushka is one of my favorite works of all time. 

Me: Mine too! What do you love about it? 

Trump: See, that piece is the only one that shows straight-up reality both in the story and the musical structure. No bullshit.

Me: How so? 

Trump: Normally, most stories lead you to believe that the underdog wins at life, gets the girl, etc. Like Pinocchio, who worked so hard to become a "real boy". But none of this is true at all, and Stravinsky tries to show us that. Petrushka is a weak-ass clown, alright? The magician really messed up when he brought him to life. He looks permanently sad, everyone laughs at him, and the ballerina he loves doesn't give a crap about him. Instead, she falls in love with the Moor, the only guy in the story who has his head screwed on right. 

Me: I'm not sure that the Moor had his head in the right place, exactly. Didn't you find him superficial and empty inside? 

Trump: That's the media brainwashing you. The Moor is confident, macho, and doesn't take no for an answer. And what would Petrushka do even if he did get the girl and live happily ever after? Cry her a river? Once a loser, always a loser. His death was written all over the ballet from the start. And even after he dies he's still a loser, haunting the magician like that. Yeah, I mean, he was totally at fault for creating such a wimp, but haunting is how one gets revenge? Really? What's he gonna do, flick the bathroom lights on and off while the magician's on the toilet? What Stravinsky showed in this whole story is that there are winners and there are losers, and that losers never win. That's another wall we should be building, just like Stravinsky did - between winners and losers. 

Me: I think that the haunting scene was rather poignant. It actually shows that superficiality lives and dies at the will of others, but intelligence and consciousness continue even beyond the grave. 

Trump: That's the media telling you that again. But story aside, the scope of the music is yuuuuge. Who would've thought that an F sharp major chord over a C major chord could be so iconic? I mean, it's so simple, you know, but now it has its own name: the Petrushka chord - kind of like the Trump brand. Everyone knows about how good I am at branding. As a successful businessman, I must say I vouch for the Petrushka chord. Great decisions there. So simple, so elusive. That's not to say that the piece is not tough as nails though, with all those stretches, chords, and polyrhythms. I must ask you, Tussah. There are so many stretches in the piano version, of intervals beyond an octave. How are you dealing with them? 

Me: Well, my hands can only reach minor ninths, so I find ways to distribute larger intervals. Either I can play the bottom note of the chord an octave higher, roll the chord, or as a very last resort, omit the note. It all depends on the musical context, but I must keep my options open. Why do you ask?

Trump: You ought to be punished for that. What gives you the right to omit a note that the composer specifically intended to write? Your selfish "needs"? Pro-omission musicians like you need to learn a thing or two. 

Me: I never said I was "pro-omission". All I said is, in the event that all my precautionary measures fail, I would be pressed to omit a particular note so that the part feels comfortable to play and the end product sounds right.

Trump: Those "precautionary measures" are anti-music and anti-American. Did the composer write that that chord is to be rolled? I think not. The only correct way to play a piece exactly as he intended - note for note. If you're not prepared to do that, then a young woman such as yourself should not be playing such pieces in the first place. If you do, you need to be responsible and put up with the consequences. 

Me: How exactly is it responsible to attempt to play the major ninths and tenths as they are, even though I know I physically can't, miss notes, and ruin the entire performance? Avoidable consequences don't need to be put up with. 

Trump: Look, I used to think exactly like you before. But I've changed my mind on this after seeing the sheer potential missed notes have in a performance. Think about it - if you had omitted a C, for instance, you would've never hit a C sharp by accident, and it would not have had the dignity to live and become the star of your performance. That's pretty badass, you know. That's why I want to defund all music teachers who promote omission. 

Me: In the case you present, that accidental C sharp was never meant to be the star of that performance. It's truly a wrong note. 

Trump: There's no such thing as wrong notes. Only wrong mindsets. 

Me: Are you serious? You just told me a few minutes ago that wrong notes are wrong notes, and that we shouldn't be afraid to admit that they are! I must also say that I'm quite surprised you have such a dogmatic position on note redistribution even as a fellow small-handed person. 

Trump: See, that's not the truth. I once shook hands with the great conductor Karajan, and he said I have strong, good sized hands. My hands are normal. In fact, he reckoned that they're actually slightly larger, and that I might be one of the few people who could play the opening chords of Rachmaninov's 2nd concerto without being a coward and rolling them. As I said, my hands are normal, okay?

Me: I'm sorry, but we don't have much time left, as I have to go discuss Schenkerian analysis with Hillary. I must say this conversation was rather informative. All in all, what advice would you give to this American pianist who's trying to make her career interpreting splendorous music of great depth and technical difficulty? 

Trump: It was nice talking to you as well. You just gotta go for it and get 'em out, you know. Just like I plan to do with the Chinese. And make sure you don't practice Petrushka until you start bleeding outta your fingers. Or wherever.

Me: (sinks head in hands) Get out. 

The conversation is over. 

*Disclaimer: by "unlikely", I actually mean "nonexistent". 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Keeping the score

Hello, readers of my online journal. As you may have realized, it's been a while since I've written down anything for you. Actually, to be very honest, it's been a while since I've written anything for myself. Since September, my iPad notes have remained entirely unaltered. I'm not exactly sure of the reason why, but it was most likely a combination of Chopin, deadlines, and distraction... 

Today I realized that it's been three years since I started writing this blog. I still remember how, after compulsively writing down my every thought throughout the years, I realized that other people may want to read them too at this time in 2013. Maybe this three-year anniversary calls for a small celebration - sitting in the sun smirking with glass of champagne, perhaps? 

But no, not today. Not only was there no sun here in Toronto, but there was no time for revelry. With three recitals coming up fast, it was time to work hard and get shit done. So ending this line of thought, I was soon off to my practice room with a large cup of coffee and an even larger cup of motivation. 

The first piece on my to-do list was Haydn's Sonata in E flat, Hob XVI:52 (what a boring title for such sparkling and passionate music!). This piece is an old and trusted friend of mine, having been in my repertoire since I was eleven years old and being constantly reworked as I grew older. As I practiced it, I began to remember the suggestions of every teacher I had played this sonata for over the years to make yet another wave of improvement. Each of them prioritized different components of the piece. One of them had said, "Avoid abrupt tempo changes and extra articulations". Another had said, "This piece absolutely cannot be perky or too fast. That's not what Haydn would have intended. It's all in the 16th notes!". Yet another had told me, "Haydn was at the final years of his life, and was captivated by the tone of the new English pianos when he wrote this piece. Even though it sounds youthful, this piece is more a reflection of youth rather than a celebration of it". 

Above all, however, the most prominent admonition I received from every single one of them was "Stay true to the the score".

Surely, what Haydn wrote on the score, as well as his original intent and mental state when composing the piece mattered the most when playing his music. According to all the teachers I played for, it wouldn't be right to veer away from that in order to pursue my own feelings and whims about the piece, which are most likely inappropriate in light of the music. 

Even though my teachers were speaking from experience and their observations were extremely valid, they inadvertently established a rift between my own intentions for the music and the composer's. This rift seems to mirror what we are led to believe throughout our lives - that in every situation, there is a Right Choice and a Wrong Choice, and making the latter will always come off as unintelligent or insensitive. In my case, playing fast, sprightly staccatos in an old man's sonata was most definitely the wrong choice. We are told that there are good manners and bad manners, good habits and bad habits, good ideas and bad ideas. You wouldn't add savory spices to cake batter, would you? Or laugh in the faces of grieving parents? Or loudly curse at a crying baby? 

I'm sure you're nodding your heads along in agreement so far and eating up my rhetorical questions like sentimental, moralistic candy. Good work, you obedient puppies. Now let me go ahead and explain why those questions are not at all rhetorical, and how everything in the last paragraph is absolute bullshit. 

It's all bullshit, in fact, because the one key aspect I didn't mention is context. It is the context of the scenario that matters the most when making choices, and usually justify the actions taken. When you come to think about it, no decision is inherently right or wrong from the start - rather, they are found to be right or wrong when the details of the situation become more apparent. The more the detail the clearer the context, and consequently, the more informed the decision. In the scenarios I put forth before, the crucial aspects which could directly influence the reactions are all entirely unknown. For instance, you might actually want to add savory spices to cake batter to create an interesting new flavor - I never specified which spices I was referring to or in what amount. Isn't it true that chili peppers and chocolate go well together? As for the grieving parents, what if they were merciless abusers who had driven their child to suicide, and were then shedding crocodile tears at the funeral for public sympathy? You would be thoroughly justified to laugh in their faces, or even spit on them, if you will. And though generally frowned upon, it's perfectly acceptable to curse at a baby if the baby is being a whiny fucking asshole. 

Okay, okay, the last one was obviously a joke. Everyone knows that it's always okay to curse at a baby regardless of whether he or she is being an asshole or not, because a baby won't understand anything you're saying in the first place. 

Again, I digress. Going back to the initial point, yes - Haydn's score tells us a lot about his intents for his composition, but how would we know whether the score itself is accurate? Obviously, Haydn is too dead for me to be able to ask him about it. When all you have is a centuries-old, reinterpreted manuscript to rely on, detail is naturally limited and subjectivity reigns supreme. How could you possibly make The Right Choices? 

The answer is you never can, and never will. Or that you always can, and always will. That's the beauty of the music. Because the classical masterpieces have lived on through the centuries, their interpretations have evolved greatly with the times, even though we don't realize it. For example, a Beethoven sonata played on Beethoven's piano, according to Beethoven's notation would sound nothing like a modern-day rendition on a concert grand - no matter how true you stay to the score. Additionally, there is so much we don't know and that we will never know about Beethoven's (or any other composer's) creative process - what precise mood he was in when he composed the piece, all the visions he had in mind. We can attempt to deduce it from facts, but it won't ever be 100% accurate. In fact, all our knowledge about this music is the result of a broken game of telephone, with information passed down over centuries, altered in a myriad of ways, and ultimately inconclusive. 

And to be honest, I don't really care. As a person playing this music today, I view it as my duty to put my own signature on the pieces I play, and try to create a version based on my own convictions, as well as on what I know about the composer's from detailed study of the score. I see no need to dogmatically cling to a delusional idea of what the composer may have wanted, and denigrate my own intentions over an entity that doesn't exist. I would actually feel more dishonest if I tried to do that. 

Pretty straightforward, right? To sum up the discussion in a maxim, one could say, "Subjectivity of the score allows for flexibility of interpretation". But unfortunately, the monstrous, fundamentalist cult that is the classical music industry doesn't understand this simple principle. I've often told my friends that even though I love classical music more than anything in the world, I absolutely detest the industry. It's made up of people who insist that the ancient art of classical music be kept the same way it has been for centuries, and attack those who try to make a difference. Much like in any regressive institution, the people in power preach a "Burn the Witch" rhetoric entirely reliant on conformity to age-old toxic traditions, and those who agree with them are ignorant followers who wouldn't know their shit even if they ate every single article on Wikipedia for dinner and studied the remnants in their toilets the next morning. They are solely responsible for the decimation of classical music in society, even though they insist they're preserving it. Here's a list of a few ways that they're killing the joy of the music and forcing everyone into the dark ages again: 

#1. Everybody wants to be right 

As everyone knows, bullshit makes the world go round. The springs and cogs of almost every human-created industry turn by the virtue of this incredibly efficient product. Its need rises solely because nobody seems to be comfortable with subjectivity. Everybody wants black-and-white truths to back up their own personal philosophy even when no such thing is feasible, because predictability is safe and allows for a beeline to power and control. When there are holes in the arguments, they are filled up with bullshit. Also, the more subjective the entity, the more dogmatic the opinions, for some reason.

Recently, I watched a documentary called In Defense of Food directed by Dr. Michael Pollan, a journalist who writes about the science of nutrition. Throughout the documentary, Dr. Pollan exposed the ills of the food industry, and how nutrition has been revolutionized for corporations to make money at the expense of public wellbeing. One of the most important points he made was that food has become exactly like a religion - something he called "nutritionism". Nobody takes the time to understand the truth of nutrition, and instead seek the "perfect diet" which doesn't exist (in the religion metaphor, the idea of God). These people, with limited faith in their own intellect, rely on "experts" like nutritionists and food critics (who have their own ulterior motives) to tell them what's right and wrong - like priests, mystic men, psychics, etc. Then, these "food priests" draw up a dichotomy between what they call the "Good Nutrients", such as protein, fiber, and Omega 3s, and the "Bad Nutrients", such as fat and carbs - sort of like heaven and hell. "Eat lots of fiber," they say, "and you will have a smoking hot body and live till you're 100. Eat any fat whatsoever, and you will plunge into the depths of obesity, heart disease and ugliness. You wouldn't want that, now, would you?" 

Obviously, nutrition is much more complicated than that. Without the right kinds of fats in your diet, you will suffer from brain fog and reduced energy. Without carbs, your metabolism will not be able to function properly. But quite unfortunately, the binary rhetoric of the food priests has infiltrated the food industry with counterproductive results. How many times has one seen junk cereals (which are most certainly bad for you) slapped on with a "high in fiber" sticker just to make people buy it? These people then feel good about investing in a "Good Nutrient", when they are in fact much better off getting the same nutrient and many others from a wholesome, nutritionally balanced bowl of muesli.

Just as nutritionism has taken precedence over true nutrition, the scam of "musicism" has taken precedence over the pursuit of truth in music. The "Good Interpreter" has been codified by the "priests" of musicism as someone who thinks of oneself as a dogged slave to the music, giving up all of his or her will and creativity to worship the god-like composers. The score is like the Bible - to be taken as literally as possible (even though some occasional cherry-picking doesn't count, for some reason). In addition, this "Good Interpreter" adheres to all the stuffy conventions of classical music 
through the ages - conforming to a boring classical dress code and solemn stage presence. Anyone who deviates from what makes a "Good Interpreter" is subject to intense criticism and opposition - practically burned at the stake by the "priests" of music. 

#2. As always, fundamentalism breeds hatred and intolerance 

Much like religion, the absolute morality of "musicism" elicits psychopathic opinions that are cheered on instead of being actively discouraged. A case in point is a review of Lang Lang's recent concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London, in which the critic wrote: "Touting a cheap imitation, Lang Lang played with a vulgarity seldom, if ever, heard on the London concert platform. For crimes against its national composer, Poland really ought to lock him up and toss the key into the Vistula." 

"Crimes" against a composer...who's been dead for 205 fucking years. This toxicity only seems to exist in the old arts such as classical music. I have yet to read a pop music review displaying such blatant hatred. An acquaintance of mine in the classical world had even gone so far to remark that people who don't play Beethoven in the way the score demands "ought to have their hands broken" for misinterpreting a "genius composer". 

At the end of the day, one needs to see this outrage for what it really is: dangerous idiots losing their marbles over what ultimately boils down to structured lines of dots on a page, embellished by symbols of subjective meaning and occasionally scattered with sparse words having widely indeterminate contexts - all created several hundred years ago by people who are now as dead as a dodo. 

#3. Nobody would bother you if you're an old white dude 

Somehow, nobody ever seems to lose their marbles when it comes to old, white men. I've observed that this particular demographic of performers gets a free pass for criticism - even if the performance is technically sloppy or emotionally dead. Somehow, it's just us young classical performers who receive reviews like Lang Lang's - especially if we happen to possess a vagina. As the rules of "musicism" apply directly to the look of the performers themselves, the image of the "Good Interpreter" is by default perceived as old, white, and male - a perception that ultimately renders the classical music industry a horribly racist, sexist, and bigoted institution. In 2010, MTNA magazine published this steaming pile of excrement of an article, which researched the perception of women onstage with respect to their concert dress. The study was conducted by having four female concert violinists wear three different types of clothes - a club dress, jeans and a t-shirt, and a traditional black, long concert dress - and perform a few pieces. As a constant, their recordings were dubbed over by a single violinist's version. The videos were the shown to a group of classically trained 18-28 year olds, who were enlisted to rate the performance on technical skill and artistry, as well as appropriateness. Given the prudish attitudes of this field, the performance in traditional dress scored highest on all fronts. Some goody-two-shoes in the focus group even wrote, "Posh music must equal posh dress" on their scorecard. The article then concludes by trashing women in the pop industry who feel empowered enough to express themselves with their clothes, saying that they really don't have "much of a mind or a voice", and indirectly finger-pointing at women in the classical industry world to cover up, or face belittlement of their musical ability. 

As if there weren't already enough pressure on women to overcome gender-based stereotypes. As a female concert pianist who works every day to achieve my dream without ever compromising my freedom of expression, let me just say this: I'm sorry, but there's no way I'm giving up wearing my short, sequined dresses and high heels on stage just to convince you that I can play the fuck out of every piece in my repertoire. My job, and the job of every aspiring musician like me, is simply to practice hard and do the best I can to make sure that my actual performance convinces you of that. Which brings me to my next point...

#4. The younger generation is brainwashed  

Aside from the outright sexism, what upsets me the most about the study is that the horrendous results came from a focus group of my exact demographic: classically trained, 18-28 year-old conservatory students. I would even be a little understanding if the people on the panel were angry old curmudgeons, but this level of baseless conservatism in my own peers saddens me to the core. However, I've come to realize that this is probably because my generation was born into privilege of freedom, and as a result, tend to take it for granted. Our parents had to fight extremely conservative attitudes in order to break free and live their lives, but we had the luxury of being born into this freedom they fostered for us. Our reaction, though, is the exact opposite of gratitude - we try to remove this freedom by pandering to regressive ideology, trampling on free though, and being butthurt all the time, all while believing that this makes us seem more mature and worthy of commendation while all we are doing is stalling progress in the fields of our passion - in this case, the performance of classical music. Countless times, I have seen people my age pander to elitism and elderly male hegemony in the name of striving for the misunderstood idea of "depth" in musical performance. I guess this explains why I sometimes feel like I relate to the free minds of some of my professors more than the constipated thought processes of some of my peers. 

The young people who choose to march with the parade of backward-minded assholes don't realize that they are in fact acting against their own interests. Their endorsement of such ideologies is like a chicken voting for KFC. If we don't support the burgeoning diversity and necessary changes in our field, who will stand for us when we want to go further and explore new paths? Some of us need to learn to have faith in ourselves and be on the right side of history, and not to believe people who piss on us and try to convince us it's raining. 

And finally, #5. Let's face it: classical music concerts are pretty fucking awful

It's true. I obviously don't mean the actual music, but rather the classical concert experience. It seems as if this industry is the only one in the world that somehow manages to exist with such little respect for its audience. For instance, imagine you're new to classical music and decide to go to a concert for the first time. You get to the hall and awkwardly shuffle along to your seat, all while stuttering "Sorry!" and "Excuse me!" for making people in your row get up. When you finally sit down, you scan your program to know more about what's being performed. What do you see? Fancy-ass program notes that, in the words of the pianist James Rhodes, are likely  "written by some Oxford don in the '70s about sonata form in Beethoven's Vienna" or some other obscure historical topic - something that you, as a newbie, understandably don't give a flying fuck about. As your confusion heightens, the lights go down and the performance begins. Despite all of this, you start to really dig the music, and after the first movement of the piece you show your appreciation by starting to clap. Suddenly, people all around you give you angry, holier-than-thou looks for breaking the ridiculous "No Clapping Between Movements" rule, which there is no way you could've known beforehand. Feeling ashamed, you slump back down in your seat. As the performance goes on, you think that maybe you should discreetly snap a picture to show your friends - just like people do in pop concerts. As you pull your smartphone out to take a photo, a stern usher runs over to you, says that "photography distracts the performers", and threatens to confiscate your phone. Funny that Rihanna doesn't feel distracted with the loud and constant flashing during her shows, you think to yourself. 

By the time you leave, you're feeling like a massive, ignorant dick, when in fact you've done absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, you've practically paid money to be treated like a dick! Sadly, this feeling may be responsible for you never wanting to attend a classical concert again. 

No company would ever make customers feel horrible about themselves, but that's in fact what the classical music industry is doing. The audience is fully expected to know all about classical music before they come to the show, and yet the performers are never expected to engage with the audience to make them know more. All in all, classical music has become like vegetables in society. People think veggies taste really bland, but since they are good for you, you should probably eat them while feeling guilty that you prefer other foods. However, the truth is that veggies can be extremely tasty, but nobody knows how to cook them right. The same goes for classical music. Everyone says it's beneficial to listen to it (it stimulates the mind, makes your kid smart, etc.), and as a result it's a part of what's labeled as "culture". If you don't know much about it or don't like it, you're thought of as an uncultured ignoramus. In all this delusion and shame, people forget about the music itself. I don't play classical music because it's culture - I play it because it's really kick-ass music and completely deserving of everyone's attention. 

Overall, it just seems like the world of the music I love is way too uptight and desperately needs to get laid. Or at least take a lavender-scented bubble bath first, because the aforementioned will never happen at this point considering the old, crusty, and smelly state it's currently in. Curtailing the beauty of music by adhering to pointless rules doesn't make you a valiant hero preserving the honor of a timeless art - it actually makes you the reason people end up calling that timeless art boring. Whatever happened to simply enjoying the music for what it is? 

As for other musicians like myself, I would only say this: be more like rock musicians. Let go. Don't let anyone censor your self-expression, or convince you that something you're doing is not musically in "good taste" or "inappropriate", as good taste for one is always bad taste for another. Fuck vague statements like that. Instead, try to gain as much knowledge from the score and from history as possible to make your own informed decisions. Be aligned with your consciousness, and be aware of what you're doing when you're doing it. Strive to actually make a mark with your music, or someone else will make that mark for you. With a sharpie. Right on your forehead. Spelling the words, "Easily Manipulated Sheep". 

...Yet again, my stream of thoughts has turned into a rant. Maybe I should enjoy my own music for what it really is by getting off the computer and starting to practice again.