This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.
When I was young, my parents owned a cassette of Tchaikovsky music that led off with none other than the 1812 Overture. Start the tape, Side A, first thing, there it was. And I loved it. I listened to it over, and over, and over again, the full thing, from the opening strings to the final carillons. I’d get into it, mock-conducting as the music went by, spinning the story of the music in my head. I knew it inside out and backwards.
Some years later, I came across a different recording of the 1812th. I don’t remember if I heard it on the radio or off another cassette, but I do remember instantly knowing one thing: I didn’t like it. At all. It was just so WRONG. Why were they playing with the wrong tempo here? And what was with that different instrumentation there? Who in their right mind would place the emphasis on those particular notes? Or have the brass take the lead in that passage? Why change the arrangement like that?
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??
I had so gotten to know a particular version of the piece that it became the “right” version. It wasn’t even a version, it was just RIGHT. Normal. Proper. Truth. Reality. How it should be played. It’s what sounded best. It wasn’t judgment, it was self obvious. This was what the 1812th Overture was. Everything else was flawed (and so were you for not doing it right).
Soooooo, a bit righteous there.
Of course, at that age, I had not yet learned that classical music – any music, for that matter – was open to so much interpretation and alteration by conductors and musicians and artists. And, certainly, I was very much not alone in this.
Less immediately obvious, however, is that this very much doesn’t apply only in the realm of music.
Our brains are pattern making machines. We take what we experience and turn it into reality. We inherit what we see and hear and experience around us in our culture, family, society, we add to it that which we encounter, decisions we make, events that happen to us, outcomes of our (in)actions, and it all gets wrapped up into a nice little ball that we take with us as we go about our lives. And whenever something doesn’t match that what’s within that little ball, our feelings come online pretty quick: dislike, upset, unease, weirded out, disgust.
We get so familiar with something that our feelings quickly reject anything outside of that “norm.” Things can feel bad just because they’re foreign, different, or plain new to us.
Of course, because it’s our feelings, it, well, feels right and truthful to us. We’re having the correct reaction. That really is bad. And wrong.
There is a large pitfall in that immediate, and quick, rejection:
We can miss out on so much because of it.
Architecture, art, music, literature, cuisines, styles, aesthetics, people – a whole world of exquisite beauty and form we can miss out on by being dismissive and moving on.
But even more importantly, it can completely blind us and shut down avenues towards listening to each other, towards compassion, and towards growing a society that benefits us all, with human rights, dignity, and with the growth of love, understanding, and freedom.
It limits who we are and who we can be.
Those other 1812th Overtures I heard weren’t bad. I just wasn’t used to them. I’d never experienced them before. The ick factor was real, yes, but there was no meaning behind it, other than simply ick. Other than simply that unfamiliarity. I had to put aside what I knew and expected to listen generously and with curiosity.
And so it continues. All the time. Let the feeling be, and go forward to explore. To get past that first thought and go beyond.
And through that gain access to new realms of possibility, and to glorious new worlds of wonder.