It has been some years since I have indulged in regular private music-listening as I am nowadays, and only rarely in years since I have had the privilege to sit and play regularly within a symphony orchestra (other than as part of a choral performance, which has remained a plentiful constant).
When I first began to learn about music in the 1970s it seemed reasonable to follow the example of music historians, theoreticians and critics in viewing the musical works offered by the miniature orchestras in my parents’ stereo system basically as autonomous works of art. Works created at a certain time, and by some genius composer who bequeathed them to the players and listeners of posterity – but now alone, ripe for the befriending. I spent years before taking music lessons or studying theory during which the sounds, vocabularies and sensations that were the tools of the composers’ trade seeped into my consciousness unnamed. They would remind me of themselves every time I would hear music, and await the day when study would teach me the names of notes, chords, rhythms, progressions, structures and styles.
By university, when just enough music had seeped into me to (very narrowly) entrap me into a musician’s life, snatching me from the very jaws of the science career that I had intended, music had become much more than a thing to hear, to know and understand. It had become a thing to do, a thing to create and share – and critically it had become something with others, rather than simply its own marvel dwelling between the ears that had admitted it to my head and heart.
I have occasionally contributed to symphonic performances as a french horn player and later as a keyboardist, but excepting that few dozen or so occasions this genre has continued throughout my life as a solitary experience – most notably as the cassette Walkman-borne soundtrack to rural wanderings by bike in my early-teens and through high school. The Brandenburg Concerti, the Symphonies of Beethoven, the works of the Mighty Five in Russia and the new currents flowing in France through the 20th century preceded by decades the now-ubiquity of choirs, organs, hymns, the intimacy of chamber music and the smorgasbord that is theatre that have since come to define my musical life.
Now, unexpectedly and inexplicably, nearly all the rest of music has joined the symphony as a private experience – not one between me and colleagues, audiences, congregations, recording producers and technicians, but between me and the autonomous, usually recorded work of art.
I learned from the Solitary Symphony to love music, to aspire to play it, to wish to understand it and to want to share it… it will be my hope that as music reverts, at least for a time, to being a private friend rather than a public product I will love, aspire and understand still more; and never stop wanting to share it.