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Learning to Be Heard

John AdamsThe New Yorker has a remarkable piece in today’s issue by the composer John Adams, a tear-jerker for any creator trying to get somewhere. Adams follows the course of his early career as he moves from avant-garde esotericism and bad reviews to orchestral works that interested both him and audiences alike.

If you’ll read the piece, read no further. The texture and drama of it is worth experiencing on one’s own first.

The climax comes when Adams is driving high in the Sierras and listening to Wagner.

Wagner had not been on my mind much in those days. But this music, especially the quiet opening bars of “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey”—with its graceful leaps of sixths and sevenths, its soft cushions of string chords—spoke to me. I said out loud, almost without thinking, “He cares.” … its overriding effect was something that, I realized, had been absent from my avant-garde experiments: a sense of ravishment.

There are, it seems, two journeys for the artist here to take as a young man. There is first learning to make music, and second, learning to be heard. Learning to speak to the audience out of care, concern, desire for their welfare, or the desire to implant some important seed. Or, simply: that they may enjoy themselves.

For some, the second journey comes easily and the first is to be learned. For others, particularly the over-schooled and over-thought, the real challenge is the second.

Why do I find such beauty in Adams’s discovery? I guess because I’m still after the dream of reach in my own work, the dream of affecting, of creating a conversation, of fostering care between us.

(Thanks to DIK, who pushed me to read the article.)