I don’t know anything about Dr. Karl Paulnack, of the Boston Conservatory, but I’m thankful for him anyway.
A few days ago, a friend sent me a link to an article by Paulnack, an address he gave to a group of parents about the place of music and art in the world. A classical musician, Paulnack says a few things that I’ve haven’t heard in just this way before.
One of the first cultures to articulate how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you: the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us.
He then recounts a few stories to illustrate: the appearance of major music and art in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, the role of music in the healing process that followed Sept. 11, 2001, and finally how one of Aaron Copland’s compositions helped a veteran connect with a torturous, lost memory.
...music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects.
This makes sense to me. I have no idea what Paulnack’s faith orientation is or isn’t, but he’s striking at a truth here. Dallas Willard might use a definition like this to illuminate what someone means when they say that music and art are “spiritual.” Perhaps this is why, as I peruse, and am perused by, the invisible relationships in my internal world, the pressure and desire to write is growing more insistent.
Just in case you don’t bother to click the link to read the article, I leave you with his last three paragraphs. Argue with the notion of music and art saving the world if you will (as Christians we must), but get behind the gist of it. Rescue is a dynamic process, a day-to-day work that I have no doubt the Christ intended to have music and beauty be a part of.
This is what Paulnack said to a group of entering freshman:
“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.
You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”
Yes, in the end, art will leave us short. But functions like this may have been very much what God had in mind when he placed this part of Him image in us.
I am writing…