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Pauline Lerner

February 13, 2005 at 3:33 AM

This is an update on my most recent blog entry, dated Feb. 9.

Someone read my blog entry about my community symphony orchestra and sent me a very interesting and helpful email. I am copying it here, with his permission.

Pauline--some thoughts about your blog.

I'm involved in a community orchestra that sounds amazingly like yours, complete with the situation of some self-appointed guardians who aren't satisfied with the current situation and want to change the character of the whole group just to suit a few who think the group isn't good enough for them.

"I have studied the scriptures, I have dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't', I have gotten degrees and studied with the great masters. I and I alone know the correct interpretation, and because of this, I have this gift that makes me superior to everyone else and gives me the privilege of overruling everyone else." Sound familiar? Replace a couple of words with musical terms, and I bet that describes these people to a "t".

There's a word for this--"fundamentalism", and it exists in far more places than religion. I've observed it in music for many years, and the same things that drive religious fundamentalists drive their artistic counterparts.

Pauline, here's the dirty secret--people who have to act like this--intimidating others, forcing their will on others, telling them that they are inferior--don't have big egos. They have SMALL ones. The only way they can make themselves bigger is through self-aggrandizement.

It is a very sad, shallow way to look at the world.

The other morning I was changing my 3-year old and she broke into "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and started making up her own words that included "really big bubbles" and sang about all sorts of things that had happened over the last couple of days. You want to know the reality? There was more pure, honest, and true MUSIC in her two minute song than in a full recital by one of these self-righteous fundamentalists.

These people need to get lives. Over the course of my life, the greatest artists I have known are equally wonderful human beings. It's not that their art makes them great people--it's the other way around. I've long heard the wisdom that a true judge of a person's character is how he treats people who are below his status.

Someone who truly accepts himself can accept others, regardless of their native abilities. He or she will be willing to teach, to share, to help other people grow. He or she will not want to show his or her superiority by putting others down, but instead give and serve others and raise them up to his level.

If I were you, I wouldn't worry. I'd put your trust in your music director and in the strength generated by the whole group. From what I've read, there is good will in enough quantity as to be unstoppable if everyone will just let it.

And, don't be afraid of them. They are selling you shadows in the dark. What you are searching for is the bright sunshine of a clear day. You already have a lot more of it than you think. Pauline, YOU have true music within you. Don't worry about what anyone else says, because if they begin to motivate you with fear and have you looking over your shoulder, that means they are getting what they want.You will only affirm their sad quest.

Our conductor believes that the highest role of music is not to isolate people, but to bring them together.

Please note that in this I'm not talking about the vast majority of musicians (or religious people for that matter). I'm also not talking about TRUE professionals. Most people do music for the right reasons. Most people worship for the right reasons.

At least in my group, the conductor tries to treat people the way Gandhi would. If I were one of the people trying to create disharmony, though, I would be concerned because I think if he's pushed, he's more than capable of behaving a little like Tony Soprano. . .


I like the comparison of music and religion. I am a scientist and I can see similar things going on in science. I used to work at NIH, a kind of biomedical Mecca. Some of the people who work there are quite snobby and elitist. The Nobel Laureates I met when I was there, however, were down to earth and approachable. They didn't need to prove themselves any more. I'm also reminded of a previous blog entry by Carla Leurs, in which we described the behavior of some of the students she met at Juilliard and concluided that their behavior problems were rooted in insecurity and weak egos.

I've thought a lot about what Greg said about emphasizing the positive and the goodwill and cooperation of most of the people in the orchestra. I had a conversation with one of my 7 year old students that addressed similar issues. She came in very unhappy, face down, and silent. I asked what the problem was, and her mother said that one of her toys had been broken by another kid at school, but it can be fixed. After the mother left, I talked to the girl about it. I thought her response was amazingly mature. According to her, the real problem was not that the toy had been broken, but that the kid who broke it was mean to her. Furthermore, the kid had done mean things to her in the past, although my student had not been mean to the other kid. I told her that, unfortunately, some people are like that. Choking back the tears, she told me that the toy was special because her teacher had given it to her. I told her that her teacher had been very nice to her and suggested that she focus on this. By our students we are taught. I should take my own advice.

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