I just returned from Jerusalem where I gave a presentation on music and math notation. One of the things I presented was how we understand music by relating the moment we are in to moments that came before, and moments that are yet to come. In this sense, music is a kind of four-dimensional object which moves us into imaginary spaces.
It’s somehow appropriate that I was asked to present this topic in Israel, where I have never been before, never thought I’d see, but have always been expected as a Jew to someday go. The visit occurred in my present, and yet I was constantly relating my time there to things in my past. And now that I’ve gone to the place I never thought I’d go, I have to consider my life in the future without that burning question of “Will I go?” always hanging over me.
At the time I was there, I felt surprisingly little in the way of “wow” moments. I didn’t have any epiphanies, no euphoria, just a very normal experience of someone in an interesting place made in equal parts of past, present and future. And yet in the course of five minutes I somehow was inspired one evening in my hotel room to write four poems which encapsulated my visit.
As I read the poems I had just written, I was struck by the picture they painted, of a man reborn, having epiphanies, experiencing euphoria. I was uneasy about the disparity between my rather ordinary experiences and my extraordinary portrait of them. I am now wondering whether I heightened the experience to make greater poetry, or whether the poems cut through my blindness and revealed a greater truth.
I have always taken the attitude that, when I write something, I should put it away for a while before criticizing or editing it. Sometimes it’s better to let the more mature person I become decide what to do with it. Many times I’ve pulled out something from 30 years ago and discovered it was much more satisfactory than I thought at the time.
On the other hand, sometimes the more mature person is uncomfortable with what the younger person did. Brahms ruthlessly destroyed most of his early music, so we have no idea whether any of it was good or not. Sibelius sat on his 8th symphony for 30 years before asking his wife to destroy it after his death.
The worst example of this is Wordsworth, who had a vision for a great poem in many parts. He completed the first part, The Prelude, a remarkable long work about his life. And then, rather than moving on to complete the other parts of his poem, he spent the next forty years revising The Prelude, making changes which, in my opinion, did nothing but kill the spirit of the words from the young man who composed it.
While it is my habitual way to let poems sit and then decide what to do with them after a break, I am feeling less comfortable doing that with these poems. And so here I am, unable to trust the “young man” who spit out these poems for fear that he may be misrepresenting me. I feel like the older me will be less kind to the work I have done, and that I should perhaps protect it from him.
In this way I am living my life the way we listen to a piece of music, experiencing the present while contemplating and connecting to the past and the future. I am in a strange kind of balance. Your comments might tip me into action.
News From a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books
Half my time in Jerusalem was devoted to a conference on Feldenkrais and Mathematics. You can watch the presentation I gave here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T5kwcUW4WY&feature=youtu.be
Adam Cole is a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books. Author, educator and performer, Adam chats weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and living your best life. To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net