Sunday, July 17, 2011

Talent vs Vision

I think we can separate these two things, which might clarify some puzzling observations like how the heck did he manage a career? Some people have a natural ability in music: this can be both physical and mental. Some people have great hands: nimble, fast, accurate and flexible. Some people have a great ear and auditory memory. We think of Mozart and his ability to hear a complex nine-minute-long piece and recall it well enough to write down in notation. We think of people who can sight-sing or sight-read virtually anything. This is all talent. Rare enough, but still it does not always produce artistry. Why? Because vision is something else.

It is what I am calling artistic vision that is behind real creativity and expression. Now I find myself at a bit of a loss to describe it! When I was in my teens I suddenly awoke to music. I say suddenly, but it probably took a few years. I started 'seeing' (by which I mean hearing) something unique in music. At first I heard it mostly in pop music (by which I mean the Beatles), but then I discovered classical music and the vision became complete. It is hard to describe, but I have an icon. There used to be a photo of me, age 18 or 19, leaning out of my living room window, holding the Archiv recording of the Bach B minor Mass. This was a large box made of a kind of stiffened canvas with three LPs inside. It almost looked, from a distance, like a stone tablet. And that's the icon. I looked like Moses, coming down from the mountain with the Commandments on a stone tablet. Let me hasten to say that I did not feel like Moses. This is just a symbol. But to me, that piece of music, exemplified in that nifty box, was Truth. Musical Truth, sure, but Truth nonetheless. Truth as opposed to illusion, as opposed to bullshit. If you say, whaddayamean? Well, just listen to it!

There is nothing religious about the vision I had--it was musical, not theological. I could have picked any of a dozen or so different examples with no religious connotation. Such as this:

It doesn't have to be slow, quiet or solemn either:

It just has to have that indescribable extasis that, for me, is only present in music. Others may find it in visual art, or literature, or dance or religion or wherever.

The tragedy of music is that you need not only talent and vision, you also need luck, ambition and a business sense. Well, that's not the tragedy! The tragedy is that the world of professional music tends to be dominated by those with a little bit of talent, hardly any vision and a whole lot of ambition, business sense and luck. Actually, the tragedy is for the listeners, isn't it?


Steven said...

Bryan, decided to work my way through The Music Salon archive and am learning so much doing so. Can't believe I'm only a couple of months in though -- already bookmarking posts to come back to, books to look up... If my estimate is correct, in the space of six years you've produced nearly enough material to fill an Oxford History of Western Music!

Anyway, just wanted you know how much I'm enjoying the blog. I only pause at this particular post as I'm always struck by 'testimonies', as Christians say. Also your Moses analogy was somewhat striking --
especially as it was 1960s, when I imagine all rock guitarists looked rather like Moses...

Bryan Townsend said...

A friend used to ask me when I was going to publish my book on music--I guess this is what I am doing instead.

Thanks so very much for your comment and most of all, for reading through the archives.