I’ve added a new book to my reading list. It’s called Station Eleven and it’s about a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors and classical musicians. They call themselves the Traveling Symphony. Poorly paid, fed and clothed, their lives are hard; they travel from small town to small town in the Midwest. Oh, and their world has been devastated by a flu-like pandemic, civilization has all but collapsed.
I think that most people today would wonder why, of all the things, these survivors try to keep alive the traditions of Shakespeare and Beethoven. Isn’t there something more important to do? Shouldn’t they be trying to rebuild the internet? The electrical grid? Something useful? Maybe so, it’s certainly important work. But I think these fictional artists are on to something we too easily forget.
Life is more than a full belly and a warm bed. The author sums it up nicely in the troupe’s motto, “Survival is Insufficient.” It is not enough for them to merely remain alive. They keep music alive, not because it makes life easier, but because it makes life worth living. The pursuit of beauty, of expression, in spite of hardship, is what makes them human. Their struggle recalls the music makers who went through the Holocaust, through the Rwandan genocide, who are refugees in Syria even now. Even in our darkest times, it seems we cannot be silenced. We make music.
The earliest musical instrument is 40,000 years old. Some scientists think that music is even older than language. I would love to hear those ancient songs; music older than the Pyramids, older than writing, the wheel. I have no idea what it would sound like; it may be horribly out of tune! But it would be an expression of those people, what they felt, how they lived.
I’m not sure I fully understand it, but we all have within us the need to express something that words cannot. I get nearer to this when I’m playing the piano. It lights me up. I feel alive. I know that music has a wealth of effects that improve my brain and make me a more intelligent person. I think that’s great, and I know those effects will occur if your child studies music too. However, if we study music only because it may raise your IQ three points or give a 26 point increase in SAT math scores, we have missed the point entirely. I’m not interested in creating marginally better people who have no place for music, I'm for creating better people.
I’m much more interested in helping your child connect across time and space to their ancestors, to their peers, to themselves through music. Consider joining us at Heartland Music Academy: we will show them how to make a life worth living. We’ll show them why survival is insufficient.