I was only half listening last weekend during the Q &A when a woman asked about the astounding level of passion the young musicians performed with. It always happens. Every summer concert with the music students there’s the inevitable question about…passion. After years of watching bored middle-aged musicians in an orchestra trying to stay awake on stage, audiences find the excitement coming from young performers at the music camp so thrilling it’s no wonder they want to figure out why the experience is so different. The violinist in this picture is Yehudi Menuhin, by the way; definitley not one of the young student musicians and clearly not without passion!
I’ve written about this subject before (8/30/2010), so it no longer surprises me; the question, that is; but the form it took last weekend was intriguing. I realized this query was different. Usually the fact of passion’s existence is accepted automatically, and the wistfully posited question is only about how these particular musicians unleash it. In fact, there’s even been an inference that something special at the music camp might be responsible. But this woman made me realize I’ve been approaching the issue from one dimension. She wasn’t asking about why they feel so deeply and show it on stage. She was asking how passion is formed in the first place, and if it exists in everyone or is unique only to certain people. It never occurred to me that anyone would suggest passion wasn’t a universal human emotion, or that it could be instilled in or coaxed from one person, but not another. Did the questioner have a point?
Watching the expression of painful joy on a musician’s face brings one to experience much the same feelings, and yet the expression is only a symptom. Is the artist born with that passion or does it develop slowly over time, the questioner wanted to know. ‘How do you do it?’ she asked the teacher. ‘I don’t know’, was the answer; honest at that moment, but still unsatisfying. I always took it for granted passion was there in everyone. Why did this person think it might not be?
I suspect that what we all start with can be quashed, stifled and repressed in people as time goes by when they aren’t doing the things they love; things that stimulate and make life worthwhile. But that kind of inspiration takes work, too. It has to be met at least half way. That’s the difference I see in these musicians, and it’s not a symptom only of age. We’ve all known people of all ages who’ve consigned their happiness to the easy lure of superficiality. There’s no excuse for boredom or dissatisfaction in this incredible life we’ve been given. The musicians tell stories, as one of them pointed out to me; stories that have been told to them through the notes by another human being who felt and lived fully. That’s the message in the music: to feel and live with a deep conviction that life is a gift of inestimable value, no matter what its circumstance.
As my mind wandered through this increasingly rich, dense grove of ideas, my own private conviction that imagination was also involved snuck up on me. Opening the mind’s eye is a precursor to the ultimate vision of a passionate soul. So maybe there’s also a little nature and nurture involved; the desire to develop one’s imagination being the nature, and the need to do it the nurture; but that’s another digression I’ve made before, discussing why some of us grow such huge imaginations as children (for the most part) and others seem oblivious to the pleasures they can offer. The detour diverts us from the answer to the question from the audience.
My instinctive, silent response, after pondering a few days, of course, was: ‘are you kidding?’ Anyone can unleash their passion with continuing hard work. It may well be that the musicians’ commitment to music reminds them every day to keep their souls open to life, and the work they do to acquire the necessary skills makes them connect with and understand themselves; all that without the omnipresent shrink, I might add. So my imagined answer to the question, ‘How do you do it?’ would be ‘practice, practice, practice’.