Is music something you do, or is it part of who you are?

Is music something you do, or is it part of who you are?

I recently heard a teacher ask a group of 11-year old students “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The first few kids answered “doctor,” “teacher,” and the like. Then the teacher asked a girl who I think may have been daydreaming and seemed a little surprised to be called on. But she raised her eyebrows and said calmly, “Me? I’m a singer.”

Notice how she didn’t say “I want to be a singer.” No, she already is a singer. An important distinction.

Of course no one can predict artistic success in today’s world, so we don’t know if in fact this talented young lady will in fact grow up to have a musical career. But we do know one thing: she is a singer. (Very different from a “person who sings” or a person who wants “to be a performer.”)

Her teacher confirmed to me that music is in this girl. Music is part of the very fiber of her being.

How can we ourselves be related to music in this way? It doesn’t mean giving up our “day job,” or singing as we walk down the street. But it does give us the opportunity to remove that invisible barrier between our brains and our instrument. We can let the sounds our fingers produce on the piano permeate our whole body. We can experience music directly.

It seems to me that this is one of the characteristics that many of the great musicians have. Mozart, Charlie Parker, and yes, Eminem have a different qualitative experience of music than most other musicians do. It’s not just that they have more technique or more imagination. They’re like this young girl, who is a singer!

To see one of the finest examples of what I’m talking about, check out Lester Young playing the tenor sax in this clip, starting at 2:00. He was apparently in ill health while TV appearance was being taped, and Gerry Mulligan (also in the video) told me that everyone expected Young to remain seated for his solo. But as you’ll see, he summoned enough energy to stand up and play one of the best blues solos ever recorded. He’s not “playing” the music, he is the music. You can do this too!

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