In one of my choirs, the graduating seniors were asked to share words of wisdom as we look forward to graduation in the next couple weeks. I’m in a unique position in that I actually graduated back in 2016 with a BA in Piano Performance and English Literature but had the opportunity to return to my alma mater this year and participate in choir again as I prepare for grad school.
So basically, I’m a super senior. And I feel vastly unqualified to give advice to anyone, so I used words of wisdom from other people. I wanted to share these words here as well; maybe they can help someone else. Here they are:
Embrace what you don’t know, and know that you don’t know a lot. Do this by being patient with yourself and the world. In “A Psalm of Life,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writes, “Let us then be up and doing, / With a heart for any fate; / Still achieving, still pursuing, / Learn to labor and to wait.” You may not have that golden opportunity now, but it could still be in the future. Keep working hard and be open to what the world throws at you.
Love. Love especially when it’s hard and without limits. This requires being honest with yourself and then with others. Know your boundaries and communicate them well but also don’t let not knowing them stop you from loving. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, “Love is a question mark, not an exclamation point.” As long as you’re honest, you can still love.
Let your music mean something. Make magic with it. In “The Philosopher and Music,” Julius Portnoy writes, “Music is born of feeling to appeal to feeling. It is created out of emotion to move the emotions….Music embodies our hopes and aspirations, our anguish and despair.” Be vulnerable. Let yourself feel not just positive feelings but also the negative ones. It is by this metaphor of feeling that music can mean something.
Charlie Parker said, “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” You’ve got to live it, to feel it, to make it happen. It’s this aspect of music that Kierkegaard pored over: he wrote that music is the most immediate of the art forms. It gives us the opportunity to stop worrying about the future and the past and simply be present, feeling all our emotions, however ugly and unpleasant we think they are. They’re all still musical.
Sometimes the best we can do is to just be. So be you: embrace what you don’t know, love relentlessly, and make music that means something in a world that may mean nothing.
Kierkegaard, Søren, Howard V Hong, and Edna H Hong. 1987. Either/Or. Kierkegaard’s Writings, 3-4. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “A Psalm of Life.”
Portnoy, Julius. 1955. The Philosopher and Music : A Historical Outline. New York: Humanities Press.
Reisner, Robert George. 1977. Bird : The Legend of Charlie Parker. 1St paperback. A Da Capo Paperback. New York: Da Capo Press.
Wiesel, Elie. 2006. Day. Translated by Anne Borchardt. Night Trilogy, 3. New York: Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
About the Author
Amy King is a music theory and piano instructor currently residing in the Chicago area.
She holds a Master of Music in Music Theory and Cognition from Northwestern University (June 2020) and a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance and English Literature from High Point University (May 2016), where she received the Outstanding Senior Music Major Award, which is awarded to one single graduating music student per year.
Amy has been teaching private piano lessons for 12+ years, taught classroom music theory for 5 years, directed choirs spanning ages 4–25, led and arranged for a university a capella group, and composed and arranged music for various soloists and ensembles.
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