WHEN I WAS sixteen years old, I was eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant with a close friend when he asked a humorous but pointed question: “So what you’re choosing to do with your life is essentially this: You are going to move your arms back and forth repeatedly in order to make a strip of metal wiggle, which will then cause air molecules to bump into each other. How is it that you think you can make the world a better place to live in with this?” After a lengthy discussion on the power of music, our own artistic “calling,” and the benefits of the arts to the world we live in today, we broke open the complimentary fortune cookie customarily awarded with the bill and were both amused, but frankly startled, by the message we found inside, for it summarized the conclusions of our entire discussion: “Talents that are not shared are not talents.”
Since our discussion over ten years ago, that cookie’s message has stuck with me, often pulling me up “by my bootstraps” by reminding me of my purpose and calling as a musician, and shaping how I see myself and my work as an artist. So… what IS my purpose as an artist? Why IS it that I spend so much time locked away in a practice room crafting my ability to cause air molecules to collide – and how is it that this honed ability can actually benefit mankind?
I believe my purpose is to soften hearts, build bridges, and break social barriers with the music that I make; it is my wish to spend my life in respectful and committed service to learning how best to accomplish this endeavor. I believe that when music is at its most honest, honed, and dedicated it has the greatest potential to make a difference in any soul who experiences it.
Music is words shared with exquisite inflection, and in my mind, it is the purest form of expression. By its very nature, it can “…embody conflict of forces, depict interior states, suggest the infinite and invisible, encompass emotional change, mental flux, the process of becoming, with a completeness and immediacy unavailable to painting or poetry. It avoids both literalness and pictorial imagery, communicates meaning without committing itself to specific content.” -Malcolm MacDonald
Indeed, music can break through and shake people from their self-absorbed, chaotic, and frequently isolated lives, pierce their hearts, and enable them to recognize, feel, relate, and then even dance, sing, laugh, and cry all that they hold within but could never find a way to express – all without ever speaking a word. Music is the God-given “equalizer,” the unspoken language that holds the power to link any and all human souls together across cultures and across every strata of society, reminding performers and listeners alike that they are not alone. Thus I have watched in awe as a Beethoven quartet has silenced a rowdy room of “hardened criminals” and brought inmates to tears; I have seen patients hours away from death, breathing deeply and smiling for joy as they soak in Mozart; I have witnessed refugees who have lost their homes and identities, and Lincoln Center audiences alike closing their eyes in relief and wiping away tears at the sound of a piano-viola sonata; I have experienced a room filled with more than 8 different languages and nationalities laughing, singing, and dancing together as we enjoyed the carefree rhythms of a Bulgarian folk song.
When I consider all of this, the hours, days, and years throughout my life spent in practice rooms, along with any pressure or stress involved with performing – as well as any pressure and stress involved with running the nonprofit Project: Music Heals Us (!) – suddenly becomes more than worthwhile. And what is more, when I consider the number of isolated souls craving for this equalizing connection (often including my own!)…. what more is there to say? My path becomes clear and my work becomes a joy.
And so you may ask again: “How is it you can benefit society through an elusive art form?” I hope always to answer you with this: I wish to become a vehicle for the gift and link that is called music, penetrating and ministering to peoples’ hearts while building bridges across every strata of society and culture. This is how I want to spend my life: In joyful appreciation of the gift I have been given, in committed service to sharing my talents with those who need to hear them most, while learning how best to speak that wordless language which knows no social boundaries, respectfully speaking with music what I have been blessed with the voice to say.