On finding and killing our musical horcruxes

Posted on August 31, 2011

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(What’s a horcrux, you say? Click here.)

We all grow up with music. Sure all of us are exposed more to one kind of music than to others, and sure all of us develop different tastes and preferences, but we all grow up with music. Yet like religion and like politics, so much of what we’ve learned to love and believe about music has been taught to us informally by friends, family, media, etc. We spend our lives subconsciously absorbing hidden rules and attitudes towards certain kinds of music and the people who make it that stick with us for years. Some of us go our whole lives without really questioning those attitudes. And eventually, those seeds that were planted in our heads as kids, teenagers, and college students “blossom” into creativity-dampening, life-stealing and humility-busting musical horcruxes.

Just like Voldemort in the Harry Potter saga (he’s dead now, so I can say his name), we take parts of our musical selves- parts of who we could have and should have been as musicians or music lovers- and we hide them.  We hide them to keep things simple. We hide them so we can attempt to live musically forever in the hearts and minds of our listeners. We hide them in hopes of fitting in. But worst of all is the fact that we, like Voldemort, think that by creating these musical horcruxes we are somehow making ourselves “more better-er,” as my old high school English teacher used to say. More musical. More cultured. More proper. More hood.

It’s all a lie.

If you’re like me, your views on what makes music good, appropriate, controversial, unique, etc. are full of inconsistencies and double standards (aka horcruxes). It’s not because you’re a lousy human; it’s simply because you’re human. And if you’re like me, you don’t want to have those horcruxes anymore. So you set about the business of finding and killing them. But on that quest, with each horcrux you uncover you will find yourself at a crossroads: a “musical gut-check” if you will, not unlike the one Ron and Hermione are confronted with in the clip above. At those crossroads, you must either:

  1.  kill the horcrux in question and walk away in newness of musical life, or
  2. treat your horcrux like Smeagol/Gollum treated The Precious. Justify your arrogant and ignorant horcrux for reasons that you know deep down aren’t fair or right, and carry on with life as usual.

The good news is that while finding your horcruxes is an embarrassing exercise in realizing how shallow and petty you are, killing them is liberating. Like Smeagol in that clip above, I’ve spent the past two months telling my musical horcruxes to go away and never come back, and as counter-intuitive as that can sometimes be, I am absolutely better for it.

Are you a classical musician who wonders why you’re not part of the broader musical conversation locally? Here’s the harsh reality: most of the time you’re not part of the conversation because you take yourself out of it. No one is entitled to a spot in any musical conversation. If you want into The Conversation, you have to become humble enough and passionate enough to join the musical conversations that are already taking place between people who aren’t like you.

Does the thought of that make you nervous? Do you think that sounds stupid? I’d bet a large sum of money there’s a horcrux lodged somewhere in your heart preventing you from accepting what I just said. That horcrux needs to die, but only you can kill it.

Want to break that musical glass ceiling between classical music/musicians and the rest of the musical world? Trust me when I say that it’s within your power to do so. Swallow your misguided pride, grow some cajones and kill your horcruxes. Tell them to go away and never come back. Re-learn how to be yourself and become the musician and person you were always supposed to be.

See you at the crossroads.

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