After yet another night of very accomplished music that was utterly free from yearning, I find myself thinking about Bali. I was taught that in that part of Indonesia the gods are the true audience for music, not people. I learned that musical ceremonies exist to invite the gods to be present, and to call forth and satisfy the needs of invisible powers.
I go to a lot of concerts, so I listen to a lot of live music that is well-made and beautifully played, but I find that there are far more crowd-pleasers than god-pleasers. So much music seems to be made merely for the people, and I become convinced of one thing: for me, music that doesn’t somehow strive to invite a sacred presence just isn’t enough. All the technique and titillation aimed at garnering a standing ovation just seems empty without a sense of courting the sacred—it could be hilariously sacred, dark cathedral sacred, ecstatic sacred, deep-in-the-woods sacred, oddly sacred, but geeze-louise, so often it seems like not only was the music not written for the gods, but they aren’t even invited to come listen. So often it seems as if no one on stage wants anything from the music but their own mastery and our admiration.
So here is what I’m asking: what if we all agree not to waste our wild and precious lifetimes with the blank nonsense of merely desirable, semi-automatic, or even technically perfect-but-safe art? Could we musicians individually or collectively decide to reject a culture that constantly tempts us to orient our whole expression toward empty accomplishment? Could we please just pause in our busy days of achievement to call the gods forth into our homes and our concert halls, and to beseech them with every breath of our music-making?