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Pauline Lerner

Joshua Bell, Beethoven, and God

August 1, 2007 at 5:33 AM


Music is like a religion to me, and I’ve tried to describe my thoughts and feelings about it in my blog many times. I just found that Joshua Bell has done it much better than I have.

First, some background: I just finished reading a wonderful book by Barry Green called The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry , which is a followup to his earlier book The Inner Game of Music, which follows up on The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. I will oversimplify Barry Green’s thesis by saying that we can get in touch with a state deep within ourselves, a state of relaxed concentration in which we are undisturbed by distractions from the outside world (for example, a cell phone ringing) or by distractions from within ourselves (such as a voice saying, “You can’t do that. It’s too hard.”) This state of relaxed concentration or mindful relaxation is a centerpiece of some religions or philosophies of Asia (chi or prana). It is also recognized by Western culture and given such names as “meditation,” “the alpha state,” etc. This state is important to musicians because it is here that we connect strongly to music. One might even say that here we become the music. Some very beautiful things happen beyond our conscious control when we are in this state.

Joshua Bell believes that in this state, you are not presenting your own ideas. Rather, your ideas are arising naturally from the music. He feels nervous before a performance of the Beethoven Concerto, but something happens inside him just before he begins to play his part. He describes it this way. “It is as though I must succumb to this world that Beethoven has created, and I suppose I almost treat it in a religious sort of way. In the world of his music, Beethoven is God. I’d never thought of it that way before, but it is as though I begin to warm up to what religious people refer to as a loving God within that musical world. I feel as though I surrender to this. I feel that there is somebody who knows this world so much better than I do – and it is Beethoven himself, who created it – and there is something very comforting about that. Somehow that gets me feeling very relaxed. I think what a privilege it is to be a part of this great, beautiful piece of music. And this helps me get rid of my nerves and stops my extraneous thoughts about technical issues and what I did or didn’t do in the practice room.”

I can only add, “Amen.”

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