I am in the rare position of being both a philosopher and a musician. I am therefore uniquely one who can philosophise about music knowing a bit about each field. I span two worlds. No musician speaks definitively for all musicians yet I hope that this article at least describes the role of musicians for those interested. It is, in part, a proposed position description for musicians.
We musicians are sensitive and strange creatures who can hear and see music in our heads. We can hear it before it is played - how it will be, the tonality, the pitch, the volume, the feel. Musicians can be totally absorbed in their music making with the ability to switch off all outside distractions.
Music is made because the musician thinks that the music has value. Its value may be measured by the musician in a variety of ways and not always consistently.
Music, scientifically, is a pattern of vibrations. It is how those vibrations affect us that matters more than the vibrations themselves. “Feel” is something subjective that the musician appreciates about the music. It resonates with the emotions more than the mind and is somewhat differently experienced for each individual. What one musician considers a “good mix” on the PA is not necessarily what the next musician will consider good.
The qualities valued by one musician may not be valued by another musician. Music is subjective. The same applies to the musician’s audience and all music is made for an audience. Music is meant to be listened to as paintings are meant to be viewed. Sometimes an audience has to be educated in how to read the art work.
The musician likewise seeks feedback on the music he / she has created though it is positive feedback that is valued as each artwork is as a child to the musician. The musical work of art is something that has been created and is linked to the musician’s being – music is the musician’s child. Criticism of the artwork is perceived as a criticism of the musician himself / herself.
JUNGIAN ARCHETYPES & GREEK GODS
I am using Jungian archetypes which are symbols of the types of musicians found universally.
In the following I describe the role of the musician in a series of archetypes modelled on the Greek Gods:
- Apollo (patron of the fine arts)
- Dionysus (god of wine and ecstasy)
- Hermes (the messenger god, protector and patron of musicians)
All are in most musicians’ work. Sometimes a musician may emphasis one over the other in the body of his / her work or in a singular work. Though an individual piece of music stands by itself as a valid work of art, the body of an artist’s works speaks volumes more and is the final statement of the musician’s art.
The following is applicable to all music styles – rock, classical. jazz, country, folk, rap and Jesus Jingles. It is not limited to a style but is descriptive of all musicians no matter what their style. It is also not limited to any one musical instrument or the professional or amateur status of the musician.
Apollo was the patron of the fine arts. He was the master of skills and the expert in technique. His art was about beauty, clarity and purity using clear notes and harmonies that lifted the spirits.
Apollo makes music focused on the left brain. Music is a mind experience that involves intellect and thought. It is rational and linear and also traditional. One of Apollo’s favourite sayings was “Know thyself”. This music is about knowledge. It requires education and lends itself to being taught. It is about being true to oneself leading to authenticity and self-fulfilment. It is also about educating the audience in how to read the art work - which attributes are to be valued over others.
From Apollo one can learn:
- technical excellence
- the integration of content and vehicle
- past tradition
- being true to oneself and being authentic
Musicians who follow the Apollo archetype are also likely to be teachers. They will pass their art down to future generations to emulate.
DIONYSUS (Roman: BACCHUS)
Dionysus was the god of wine whose emphasis was on ecstasy and terror. Music by Dionysus intoxicates like wine and focuses on the Puer Eternus (eternal youth).
Dionysus makes music focused on the right brain. Music is full of passion and emotion where sensual feelings come to the fore. It likes distortion and a body experience such as dance. It is spontaneous and instinctive. It goes across all life experience – life / death, pain / ecstasy. There are alternating states of pandemonium and deathly silence.
Silenus taught Dionysus how to make wine. Dionysus then used that wine in orgies involving music and wine and worship. Dionysius was a borrower as well as an innovator. Although the music was with pipe instruments it also involved drums and cymbals. It was a noisy affair. It was music that demanded an immediate reaction – now!
New wine was blessed before a mask of Dionysus. This symbolises innovation. It also symbolises the invention of a persona – a mask from which to launch one’s music.
From Dionysus one can learn:
- changing styles
- the use of a persona
Musicians who follow the Dionysus archetype are not likely to conform to what is expected of them by society. It favours a Bohemian lifestyle.
HERMES (Roman: MERCURY)
Hermes was the protector and patron of musicians. He was also the inventor of the lyre and a messenger. In alchemy his name is used in relation to “quicksilver”- Hermes-Mercurius – the spirit concealed in matter that helps to turn lead into gold.
Adding lyrics to a musical artwork changes the form. The artwork has become a different animal. The piece has become a song to be sung rather than a pure musical piece. Both are valid artworks for the musician.
Words have meaning. Most lyrics should also have meaning though the nonsensical is also valid. The voice in a song is an added instrument to be used in a similar manner. It may be used as a pure instrument and / or as a vehicle for a message through the words.
When one survey’s a musician’s full body of work then his / her world view shines through in the topics that that have been explored in the lyric. A good work of at will reinforce one’s world view and make it accessible and acceptable to others.
Hermes represents the content of the lyric which should be in a suitable marriage with the music and it’s melody, harmony, rhythm and dynamics.
From Hermes one can learn:
- intellectual content
Musicians who follow the Hermes archetype are interested in the message. The lyric of the musical piece matters above all else. It is about story-telling and includes protestation as well as description as well as heart-felt cries. It is poetry set to music rather than a pure musical experience. The follower of the Hermes archetype can turn the leaden daily experience into gold.
THE MUSICIAN’S TASK
The musician’s task is to dive deep into the depth of human experience like Poseidon (Roman : Neptune) and bring back treasures to share with the world above. One does this by being absorbed in both life and music. Music is the tool to plumb the depths of the human psyche. A good work of art resonates with the experience of the listener who is drawn in, captivated and intoxicated by the spell of the music. The musical piece may be remembered years later as being associated with a time and place and particular feelings and people. It sums up a happening in a period of time.
The task is accomplished by drawing on the archetypes of:
… and using each to one’s best advantage in any given piece.
The musician’s task is not to preach. Preaching is poor art that reduces itself to propaganda. The musician gets a message across by feel and by words that reflect back on the listener requiring the listener to take action through self realisation.
The musician’s task is to make the best art possible at any given time with the resources available to him / her. No musician is perfect. Every musician makes mistakes as part of their humanity. No musician consistently makes brilliant works of art popular with all people. As in life, music has its ups and downs. Musicians hope their less brilliant pieces are soon forgotten and their better pieces remembered for a long time. Growth is possible for every musician. Life long learning is the goal.
The task of the music is to make music that is valued by others. Value is not measured necessarily by sales. Nor is value necessarily measured by popularity. Value is subjective. To have one person changed by what one creates as a musician is sufficient to make it worthwhile.
Music is also a form of catharsis for the musician. As in all art one’s life is held up for display. One’s musical works are one’s children – to be nurtured and respected and valued for what they are.
THE LISTENER’S TASK
The listener’s task is to listen to the music – really listen, not to treat it as some muzak playing in the background to do shopping to.
The listener’s task is to appreciate the music based upon their own subjective standards and, the musician would hope, also by the musician’s standards. Different elements of music attract different people. This is true of both musician and listener.
The listener’s task is to ask questions. If the musician has valued this piece enough to play it, what are the values that have been deemed worthy in the piece?
Do not read too much into the artwork as it is only a work of art and not a treatise. Find commonality between the music and oneself. What works for you and what does not?
It is the musician’s task to help the listener do the above by providing context for the musical artwork.
This is a tentative summation and not a final statement on the matter: The role of the musician is to create a body of musical art that successfully welds technical excellence with passion and appropriate content so that the hidden recesses of the human psyche are aroused to appreciate the music.