Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Yes, the lips pay, but notice how trumpet players usually have an exaggerated vein going up their forehead." The Costs Of Perfection

I recommend listening to the video while you read this.  (I realize that Coltrane isn't a mass consumption product, but some of my readers must know this music.)

The following comes from an LA Times commentary by The Doors original drummer,  John Densmore, on the price musicians pay to master their craft.  He's also in a documentary coming out on Coltrane.

"Coltrane was one of the first tenor players to switch from the old plastic, black mouthpieces that made Coleman Hawkins famous to the silver metal ones. The old plastic ones were bigger and usually produced a heavy vibrato sound, whereas the new metal ones were smaller and elicited a more narrow tone.
The space for air to come into the horn is smaller (like the trumpet), and the trap of metal mouthpieces is to produce a “cold,” or modern, sound. JC chose to use a No. 5 reed (the wooden piece under the mouthpiece that vibrates), to counteract that problem; No. 5s are very hard pieces of wood.
That forced John to dig deeper into his abdomen for more air, but it produced a warmer sound. Hard work, but he was reaching for something new.
It turned into a simply gorgeous sound, full of empathy, passion and every emotion in the human condition — from the rage over four girls killed in the bombing of a church in a song called “Alabama” to the gentle feeling of photosynthesis in “After the Rain.”
Coltrane is so in my blood. Every time I go outside after a storm, I “hear” that melody."
He acknowledges other occupations also take their toll.  He mentions Sandy Koufax's elbow and offered this tribute to construction workers.  But in the end, he thinks it's worth it.

You know what, though? It’s all worth it. If you have to contort muscles to produce whatever you’re working on, so be it. That’s why high-rise buildings should have a plaque outside on the wall listing all the workers who built those skyscrapers … all of them.
And hopefully readers of this will have a new understanding and respect for the toll musicians pay for the love of their craft.

I've often wondered if the toll many Olympic athletes have to pay, or the children in China who are identified early and plucked out of their families to train to become perfect gymnasts or dancers, is worth it.   Yes, virtuosity is thrilling both for the performer and the audience, but is it worth giving up so much that encompasses being human?  I suspect the answer is different for different people.  We give up some things and gain others.   Many people have developed no skill at all and still live lives of pain, so why not go for it?  Or would we be better off in balance with nature and follow the Greeks' advice on the golden mean?  I think true artists push themselves in their pursuits of perfection.  It's what they have to do.

In any case, think about the people who built that skyscraper, who sewed your pants, worked on your microwave and your cell phone.  And enjoy the music, since it cost the musicians a great deal.

The title quote also comes from the article.

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