The Soul of a Musician








People can surprise you, given enough time and opportunity.  In an all-too-frequently opaque world of poseurs, surprises “to the upside” are rather refreshing. 

For me, this is particularly true when discovering the hidden artist, poet, or musician in those who might have appeared to be mostly logical, analytical, and circumspect.  As a case in point, you might imagine my recent surprise to discover that our Harry Dexter White not only sings in his church choir, but – more shocking still – loves Country music.  Will wonders never cease?  Still, this discovery thrills me, truly.

Afterall, music and art fall largely into the realm of emotion.  Without reason, of course, the emotional realm can often be merely ugly, petty, even meaningless or destructive.  Regardless of the motivation, art is, nonetheless, expressive, requiring, at the very least, a willingness to expose one’s innermost thoughts and feelings. 

There are plenty of folks who (now with near constant technological assistance) seem driven to display (or tweet) the most inconsequential, trivial, and ostensibly “intimate” information about themselves, to total strangers yet.  But, that’s not the personal, often risky, sort of self-exposure that, when it’s honest, can’t help but speak to larger truths about the human condition.   In my opinion, that’s where art actually begins.

There’s nothing wrong with being shallow as long as you’re insightful about it. – Dennis Miller

OK, well, that’s more than just a little “tongue in cheek”.  Still, what we seem to get so often in the contemporary world of “art”  tends toward more techno-bubblegum and gory pastiche, rather than naked and sincere expression.  Art can be celebratory, of course, or a sorrowful lamentation, an outburst of righteous anger, even a plea for understanding.  These, at least, speak to our “better angels”, as they say.

That phrase, “better angels”, by the way, was coined by Abraham Lincoln, who actually resorted to musical analogy when addressing the divisive politics of his day:

The mystic chords of memory, stre[t]ching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

That may be a reasonably apt observation for any time, and perhaps especially for our own, today.  In the end, what “art” cannot be (or should not be) is something that celebrates and propagates the merely destructive, hateful, and callous aspects of man’s “fallen” nature. 

Without aspiration (or, at least, reference) to something higher, what good is it, really?  Emotion is not the same thing as appetite.  So, the “soul of a musician” (or any other artist) must, somehow, recognize and connect with these “greater truths”, whatever they might be. 

There is, of course, one constant obstacle for any aspiring artist or musician, myself included.  This would be the manner in which process our emotions and convert them into substantive and meaningful expression.  Inevitably, this process is subject to what many refer to as the “right brain/left brain” composition of our personalities, something that has, apparently, a distinctly physiological aspect.   

Those with left-brain dominance tend to be more adept with logic, math and language skills.  Right-brain dominance, on the other hand, seems to enhance more creative, intuitive, and emotional skills.  It might go without saying that an “artist” must have reasonably well developed right-brain processing skills, though even these can be quite varied.  The artist’s ultimate form of expression, however, may be more a function of those left-brain processing skills. 

According to this interesting on-line test (go and take it yourself), I’m not altogether surprised to find that I rate as having a moderately dominant left-brain (at 55%).  Of those characteristics, my most dominant trait is “reality based processing”.  My least dominant left-brain characteristic, as it happens, is  linear processing. 

My strongest right-brain function is identified as “holistic” processing, possibly a compensation for that anemic left-brain linear processing.  That assessment, I think, may be reasonably accurate.  It suggests that I’m something of a “big picture” kind of thinker, no real surprise. 

As for my own artistic aspirations, there are a  couple of obstacles in this mix.  I’m not overly adept at non-verbal expression or intuitive analysis, both of which I might imagine to influence any artistic endeavor.  I prefer, instead, more systematic and concrete approaches to expression; knowing the “rules” of the game first and, only then, dealing with more creative exercises around those boundaries.

My own musical tastes are varied, but tend to focus on more traditionally structured, often highly rhythmic forms, from which more progressive expression is attempted.  A good example, for me, would be a musician like Jeff Beck, who is clearly working from traditional (blues) forms, but has developed a distinctly unique and experimental expression.  For someone with my particular perspectives and brain functions, that’s just good music. 

Those with higher order “random” or “fantasy” processing skills might gravitate more towards forms like jazz or abstract art.  Highly logical or linear thinkers might find melodic and classical forms more to their taste.  Intuitive thinkers, possibly, would have greater appreciation for “popular” forms of music, while highly verbal thinkers focus only on the lyrics.  Buy, hey, I’m just guessing here, ha, ha.

In the end, the art that we see and hear is going to take many forms….reflecting the diverse talents we’re given.  But, let’s just hope that “the soul of the musician” has found something that is worth expressing.

Harry Tuttle           


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