For forty-seven years I have scoffed. I have rolled my eyes and gone about my merry way. I have laughed directly in the face of my enemy and then demonstrated my own superiority.
But, alas, I am a fool.
Today, it happened. Something that’s been happening to musicians for hundreds of years.
I stumbled through Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor (Op. 28, No. 4), just trying to feel my way through it as I am not a reader (as we’ll get into). And about halfway through the second section, it hit me. This is beautiful, and I am playing what a master composer wrote, and…I am affected.
I am affected by playing some else’s music. Someone who wrote this 250 years ago!
To be quite honest I have been a complete skeptic of traditional music. For 35 years I have walked my own path. I snootily stuck my nose up at the music establishment and announced I did NOT need it. I built my own music world. Like my own music version of the Matrix. My own chords, my own songs, my own arrangements, my own ideas, my own art.
I had no need for the tragedy of what felt was the ‘man’ trying to tell me how to do music. God had given me this talent and I owed no one but Him my musical gifts.
I eschewed music training, music snobs, and traditional music methods. A college music degree? Pshaw!
I shook off the old-fashioned, antiquated ideas of my piano teacher mother and grandmother and went my own direction, incorporating jazz, pop, and rock into my own style. I have written hundreds of songs, with hundreds recorded and published by clients and others.
All of this done without nary a lesson on how to do it.
I never understood WHY I needed to learn any of that old crap they were selling me at school, church, or at home about why Chopin’s mastery (or Mozart, or Beethoven, or anyone else for that matter) made a shred of difference to the art I wanted to make.
But today, in probably culmination of the past few years of forced study (forced by me as an experiment), I believe I am finally starting to get it.
For years Chopin stared me right in the face – literally. My mom had a bust of Chopin on our piano where I wrote songs and learned to play (kind of in that order). My wife actually recently found a similar Chopin bust and he is here in my studio…staring at me (with those sad eyes.)
Maybe having him as the predominant musical figure in my youth is why, as I narrow my chosen field of music history study down to the 1800s, I have an interest in his life and works. Maybe it’s because I am a keyboardist and he almost exclusively focused on piano pieces. We even share some facial features.
But today, playing (and I use that term loosely, remember I turned my nose up at piano lessons) this piece by Chopin moved me AS I played it. Not as I listened, which has happened before, but while I was trying to recreate it.
Now some of you students and master pianists (and yes, even you Mom) are shrugging, thinking, “Duh. Happens to me all the time.”
In studying music history lately at a local college, and as a music producer at studios, I see an increasing number of new music school students: those studying to be part of the music industry. These folks are more like I was at their age. They want to do music, but not all that stupid theory stuff and recital nonsense.
But these students (who often must take music history, or at least choose it as an elective to get their degree) NEED to understand why Chopin matters in the life they are wanting to lead. I’m finally getting it. But I wish someone would have made me see a parallel from composers as far as Palestrina or even farther back in the 500s and 600s. Maybe that would have made me realize the world of music as a more cyclical, emotional landscape, and not just some playground for me to trample on with my ignorance.
So, yeah, Chopin kicked my butt today. And I’m a better man for it.
I just wish he’d quit glaring at me…gloating.
Eric Copeland is a music producer in Nashville, and also a music student at Middle Tennessee State University. To get more articles like this one, make sure and sign up for his blog at http://musichistorymatters.wordpress.com