Music in Life

Remarks given on 18 April 2002 at Indiana University School of Music before a performance of the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Ensemble. Other works on the concert included Montana Music: Chorale Variations and Tears.

I want to give a few thoughts about how music acts in our lives. Music making is in the balance point between the conscious and unconscious minds. By way of brief illustration, the conscious part is the part we consider to be ourselves – the ego, the thinking part, the active does, the part that wakes up in the morning, and lives by the clock, and lives in a particular place, the part that has a name, and a personality, and a job.

By contrast, the unconscious part of ourselves, the part where dreams come from, does not live in time. That is, time means nothing to it. It lives in the whole universe but in no particular place. It has no personality but is life force itself. It does not have a name or a job identity, but comes forward to us as mythic forms and dreams.

Each of us has this mythic, timeless part. In mythology we are princes, kings, queens, warriors, wise men, and wise women. In a fundamental way these mythic identifications are who we really are. This part of ourselves is what allows us to identify so strongly with mythic characters, and why mythology from all cultures stays so strongly alive.

Music making is about bringing the conscious and unconscious minds together. Music making is about dreaming.

There are different kinds of dreams. Ordinary dreaming is the way our minds have of sorting out the day and getting us ready for tomorrow. Then there are the “big” dreams which come from somewhere far deeper in us. Our religious traditions are filled with the big dreams of the prophets and the visionaries. Having a big dream is like swimming in the ocean far from shore; it is both frightening and exhilarating.

Making a piece of music is about “big dreams.” I am pushed by some unknown force to try to write a piece of music. I can feel the power of what wants to happen, but most often I don’t know right off what it means. I am the channel for something that wants to come into the world.

There is a big dream underlying all three of my pieces tonight, and that is the image of the Crucifixion. I said in my note for the third movement of the Concerto that I didn’t understand why the image of the Crucifixion needs to show up in this music. Since the events of September I think I understand it a lot better. Whatever your religious tradition, or whether you even have one, the import of the image of the Crucifixion cannot be escaped. It is the passage through death to greater life. It is a paradox: the movement through death to be reborn into greater life. Our world is in the Crucifixion stage right now – well into it – and my vision is that it will get much worse. On the other hand I have been given another dream, and this one is expressed musically in the fifth movement of the Concerto. I have been told in a dream that the world will not be destroyed by human hands. You can take this in whatever way you want; I offer it humbly. This assurance gives me great hope for a coming time. Once we have passed through the fire there will be the most amazing flow of creative energy. That is my big dream through this music.