September 12, 2001
Yesterday, a sequence of events unfolded in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that represent a near total affront to the work that many of us seek to advance.
Intellectually, we are confounded. Emotionally, we find ourselves locked within the four black emotions - fear, anger, disgust, sorrow. The notion of enjoying their opposites - the heroic, erotic, wonder, mirth - seems to be vastly inappropriate, impossible, or inadequate.
I like many musicians subscribe to this: the function of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus leaving it open to divine influence. Tranquility, the colorless emotion, the resultant balance of all the others, is the preferred emotional state. Tranquility is prescribed for all, victims and perpetrators, defenders and aggressors, 'us' and 'them'.
Tranquility is not the same as numbness, which many of us are feeling today. It is the result of active pursuit. It cannot be bestowed, it must be attained.
Our job is to support the attainer, the recipient of divine influence, one human mind at a time.
As musicians, we seek to behave (if composers, to invite to behave) in a manner that encourages individual responsibility, creative self-action, avoiding leaders and formulas and promises of all kinds. Promise is no better than threat, because both create hierarchies between people, and both pervert the one moment in time we actually have for living, which is now.
If there is an afterlife, we shouldn't concern ourselves with it. That would only distract us from our proper work. To paraphrase John Cage: we'll find out when we get there. And again: our proper work is to wake up to the excellence of the life we are living.
Optimism, therefore, is our proper attitude. It obviates the need for blame and hatred. It welcomes process, and therefore life. It provides solace.
It affirms the black and white emotions alike, permitting tranquility. It allows us to feel love for the dead, to laugh at their jokes, to wonder at the stars they stood beneath, to fear for and protect their families, to revile their loss and acknowledge our sorrow.
Optimism includes everything, and everything is fine.