For a music student the words “community” and “music” have both a strong affinity and a palpable tension. The affinity is in the ideal of music as a universal language, the unity between people who connect through music, and the power of music to heal. The tension exists between artistic vision and money, perceived elitism and popular appeal, moments of catharsis and hours of drudgery.
In our communities this tension shows up in the minimal funding of public school music programs, the decline of classical music on public radio, and in the financial struggles of symphony orchestras, including our own K-W Symphony which nearly bit the dust last year. This tension’s presence on our campus was proven this year in a Cord article examining the gulf between the music faculty and the rest of the Laurier community. The article identified a key issue on campus and in doing so took the first step in bridging the gap, but there is much more to be discussed.
When first year music majors arrive at Laurier, we come with high hopes of finally being free to spend our days making music with others who share our passion. But then in music history we are assigned long readings on ancient music nobody has ever heard. In our lessons we find we must overhaul our technique. And somewhere between the constant critique and the hours alone in a practice room, many of us forget why we are here.
Because the demands of the music program – which are not greater than any other program, only different – keep us in one building all day, most music majors feel isolated and alienated. We try to justify our tunnel vision by reminding ourselves of the power of our music to connect people. We choose not to notice that we only know and only share our music with other music students. With this lifestyle beginning in our universities, it is no wonder classical music is widely seen as an elitist club.
If this paradigm begins in our universities, we can begin to change it in our universities. After two years of this lifestyle I was unhappy and unhealthy, and my music-making reflected this. In third year I returned as a music major, but with some changes. I began to reach out to my community in small ways. I started with some non-music electives, and before I knew it, I was actively engaged with the Laurier and K-W communities in a number of ways.
What I found in my explorations was a dynamic school and city full of opportunities. I found a community of people who share my diverse interests. I found soulful, skilled musicians who are not music majors. I found curiosity about the program and enthusiasm about our concerts. I also found great friends.
As for my own music, I admit I do not practice as much as I used to, but the quality of my practice has improved. I have more energy and less tension, and thus my work is more productive and more fun. Most importantly, I know why I am here. In my engagement with the greater community I have found context and purpose for my music.
Theoretically we could always be working harder, so it is easy to become single-minded in our pursuits. By leading varied lives, however, we can enrich our music, our community, and ourselves. We know that a community needs musicians. Let’s not forget that musicians also need community.