Earlier this semester, my violin instructor at UT asked me to think about why I continue to study music and what it means to me. Coming from a major in which a lucrative career is emphasized, taking the time to reflect why I would continue to study music was important. A music career exemplifies the risk-reward theory from finance; that is, it is extremely difficult to have a long-lasting, stable career in music that compensates handsomely. If that is what you’re seeking from your degree, you are likely taking a great risk by choosing to study music. Or as some of my friends put it, “Am I not just wasting time by studying and practicing still if this is not what I intend to do to earn a living?” After some pondering, I realized my answer is no. Emphatically no.
First, the definition of “being productive” is constantly being misplaced. I will never forget the sermon of the late Father Jim Weisner when I was a sophomore. Father Jim proposed the argument that going to church could also be seen as a waste of time; after all, nothing was getting done, no one was making money, and, therefore, going to church was unproductive and a waste of time.
Father Jim continued with an analogy. He asserted that despite this definition, no one would ever describe holding a baby as a waste of time. How could you? There is always something magical about holding a baby: seeing him or her smile, gaze in awe, stretch out his or her arms. Productivity cannot and should not be measured by the conventional metrics. Rather, it is essential to view productivity in terms of what is constructive to one’s self.
Is studying music directly enhancing my degree plan? Maybe, maybe not; but nevertheless, it is essential to my well-being and happiness and is definitely a productive part of my week. Let’s be honest, you can only read so much tax law before losing touch with your reality, mission, and goals. Likewise, no one would ever, ever proclaim that going to a Texas football game is a waste of time. However, a football game is basically an extended period of time during which no “work” is performed.
No other study has taught me the value of detail other than the study of the violin. Business students are constantly competing against each other for grades and in school you are evaluated against your peers. Music is much more demanding due to the fact that you are competing against yourself. For example, in the recital I will perform this evening, I have set a standard that I consider perfection and will evaluate myself against my self-set standard.
Let’s take a single aspect of musicianship: intonation. In the business school, a particularly strenuous exam might rank an 85% as an A. To contrast that to the study of the violin, if I were to perform and only play 85% of the notes in tune, it would be quite the cacophonous experience. The truth is that most listeners would prefer that every note be in tune—and this is only a single aspect that the musician must manage while also having focus on dynamics, tone, bow economy, articulation, etc.
Nothing in the practice of accounting teaches meticulous attention to detail the same way the study of the violin does. In many ways, despite my tendency to visualize things from a bird’s-eye perspective, the study of music is what has taught me how to put the puzzle pieces together in order to achieve the big picture I so desperately desire to see. John Wooden of UCLA once said, “Little things make big things happen.” This has never been as evident as it is in music, where planning and execution of minute facets cumulate to create something fantastic, transforming text on a page into the emulation of emotion.
For me, music transcends the ordinary into the extraordinary. On one hand, music enhances the personal life. Music brings a joy that is inexplicable and that cannot be replicated by anything else. A friend of mine who studied psychology once explained to me that people who have studied for as long as I have experience music via the cerebellum, which is the same part of the brain that regulates our breathing and heart beat; he says that is the reason that some people always have their iPod with them at all times.
Regardless of the science though, the presence of music in life brings about happiness. I personally cannot imagine a profession, other than musician, in which I would be more than ecstatic to go to work every day. The ability to perfect one’s art, create beauty, and finally spread that joy to others cannot be compared to anything I will get to do in accounting. This is not meant to bash the accounting profession by any means; as a future auditor and board contributor, I can certainly attest to the fact that I will have to opportunity to be creative in my approaches to testing and standard-setting.
Most importantly, is the contribution that music makes to society as a whole. We have seen the consequences throughout history of what happens to great civilizations when citizens turn from amusements of the mind to other amusements. The continuance of arts, as well as sports and academics, contribute to a healthy and vibrant society. Creation of some sort is necessary in order for societies to avoid complacency. Music provides this.
Musicians are not studying music for a career that is lucrative in terms of dollars and cents. Rather, a life full of the music is rich in other ways. It is rich in the fulfillment of a day’s labor. It is rich in what it contributes to society. It is rich in the joy that it brings to people. It is rich, a la Maslow, in the fulfillment one receives when successfully creating his or her masterpiece on behalf of all humankind. And for some reason, accounting, while I relish my study there, will probably never bring me enjoyment in precisely the same way, for accounting is not and was never meant for self-expression.
This is why I continue to study music today. It continues to bring me fulfillment in my life that is not comparable to anything else. It allows me to be creative in ways that neither accounting nor law will. While creativity is important in business, too much creativity, especially in accounting, can ultimately be harmful. A friend of mine in accounting school once looked at my sheet music and told me, “That means nothing to me,” to which I responded, “That’s right; it’s my job to make it mean something to you.” Unlike explaining the meaning behind accounting numbers, only through the study of the violin am I able to interpret and convey the same print of music in a variety of different ways.
If society were to look at the arts and say, “the arts are unproductive,” then many would be discouraged to study the arts. On the other hand, I chose a more risk-averse career so that I could enjoy such diversions. Without the arts what is the incentive for working? What would truly make life worth living without our manipulations of the senses?
Economically, one could say the arts provide some sort of utility that maintains society in a balance. As such, I hope by continuing to study my instrument I will continue to challenge my mind. While this may be my last recital for the foreseeable future, I can guarantee that this will not be the last time I take the stage. With self-study and a creative outlet, it is only a matter of time before I find another channel through which to unveil the fruits of this study yet again.
About the Sonata
Itzhak Perlman performed at UT in the spring of 2009. Beforehand, I attended a lecture by Dr. Gratovich. At the end of his lecture, he emphasized the importance of the survival of the art in terms of creation. (You will probably notice that most of the pieces I am performing are centuries old.) As can be expected, without contributions to repertoire, the art will eventually die. You may notice that very few pieces are written for the violin nowadays. In any case, he issued a challenge to composers in the room to write and try to spread original works for this sake. He probably does not know this, but someone took him up on his challenge, and that would be me.
Because of a dare to complete the piece, I finished it in the summer of 2011. This sonata is written for violin and piano with the notion of collaborating with the pianist. Although only the first movement is performed today, in the first movement and throughout the piece, there are many instances of dialogue between the piano and violin, feeding off each other melodically and harmonically. Last, less evident from solely the first movement, the entire sonata is very influenced by Texan rhythms and dances (with a splash of Bach here and there, of course). In this video taken on May 11, I fumble through the first movement.