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Music Making and the Human Experience

News flash—sometimes it’s hard to be human. Life brings unavoidable challenges and forces us to grow in new directions. It brings great joy and great sorrow. The only thing that doesn’t change is the fact that everything is changing. It is difficult to watch those you care for learning how to negotiate their way out of their hot mess. Here’s what I do to help myself: I turn up the music. Really loud. This is not a new coping strategy, as I’ve been doing this ever since I figured out where the volume knob was on my parents’ stereo.

Music speaks to us on a primal level. I don’t personally know any musicians who are not operating on this frequency—there’s a pull to the music that can’t be ignored. Here’s a little secret: as a classically trained musician, my music of choice for dealing with rough patches does not feature the flute and isn’t even in the category of classical music. It’s classic rock from the 80’s, folk music from Canada, a capella music with a country vibe, blues guitar, and ladies who rock.  Van Halen, Aerosmith, Etta James, Great Big Sea, Home Free, Eric Clapton, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Lady Gaga, the Indigo Girls, Joan Jett. The genre is irrelevant here—it’s the tugging of something deep inside that compels me to listen and feel.

My newest discovery is P!nk. I stumbled onto a Netflix documentary about her 2019 tour, which was a stadium tour in Europe before the pandemic, complete with her husband and two young children. I’ve listened to every song on every album that she’s released. I ask myself, “Why am I so attracted to this music?” The obvious answer is the bass drum and the fast tempos, but I also like the slower tunes. Hmm…

The deeper answer is that P!nk is so incredibly authentic in the songs she writes and in the quality of her performance. Her songs are raw, gut-wrenchingly painful at times. There is loss, loneliness, addiction, rage. There is also humor, resilience, beauty, and joy. She is so authentic because she has lived all of this. She’s experienced it all and is willing to be vulnerable while singing of these experiences to those who listen. She sells out stadiums around the world and has been unabashedly doing her thing for over twenty years without apology. People of all ages, all genders and all sexual orientations flock to her and her music.

True masters of their craft are not born, they are built through experience and trial and error.

P!nk would not be able to touch so many people on such a deep level if she hadn’t experienced all the stuff that she’s singing about. 

We, too, as flutists need to bring this authentic, human experience into our music making. I think it’s easier for singers when there’s a text that clearly communicates the emotion of the song. It’s our job, though, to sort out the emotional component of what we do with flutes in our hands. It’s the difference between performances where the audience cannot look away and those that are ho-hum. The more we grow as humans, the more we experience, the more we can channel this knowledge into our music making. It’s not pain free, of course. When’s the last time you got anything right the first time? We learn through failure – struggling to be better. That’s where the growth happens.

I haven’t felt like playing my flutes much in the past few weeks. This rarely happens, but sometimes it does. The underlying reason is that my own emotions are so raw and so big, that I don’t have the brain space to put that into my flute playing. What comes out tends to be mechanical and boring. The good news is that this is temporary—this period of feeling overwhelmed will not last forever. I read a quote attributed to Maya Angelou the other day: “Every storm runs out of rain.” My flutes are waiting, and it’s going to be dry soon.

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