In every musicians life he will have many discussions about his “artistry” and what it means to be an artist. In music school, there are often questions or concerns on learning archaic styles or practices of music. This seems like a contextual problem to me. Let me see if I can shed a little light.

Recently I spoke with a composition student of mine who put up some defenses regarding the music he writes. From his point of view, I stifle his creativity by limiting what he can do. So I ask my student about the reason for his defenses.

“Do you feel like I am infringing on your creativity?”

“Yeah I guess I do.” He says, “How am I supposed to say what I need to say with all of these rules and margins?”

I think about this quietly for a while and then respond with another question. “How difficult would it be to explain the complex feeling you get when your wife engages in conversation with a good-looking man? Her eyes fix on his and she is connecting with him mentally. Jealousy is an easy answer but how does jealousy feel? How would you describe the feeling of jealousy?” Knowing my student’s weakness and insecurities, this is a difficult and emotionally charged question.

He is immediately and visually upset and with his mouth slightly parted, his eyes search the ground as if following a ‘connect the dot’ pattern that isn’t there. He is trying to hold back his feelings and understand them simultaneously. After a moment he responds, “I’m not sure. It’s difficult to understand that feeling. It’s a lot like anger but the way it makes me feel is hard to put into words.”

“It’s almost as if the English language isn’t enough, or maybe, if you don’t mind, you don’t have enough understanding of the language to express yourself correctly.” I ask him, “If you have spoken English everyday for 29 years and were taught correct usage of English in school, then why is it so difficult to express these regularly occurring feelings?”  I answer myself, “Because the artistry of expression is the most difficult craft to master, especially through a disjunct and awkward medium like the English language. Now imagine a language that is intangible and primarily based in emotion and perception. The risk-reward factor is much higher. We, as composers and creators of music, have the ability to make people feel how we feel and understand the nuances in such complicated emotions as jealousy, but with their own comprehension.”

Finally I answer his question, “I put barriers around your composition to focus your energy towards content in the lesson plan in hopes that you harness each tool. This will one day give you the ability to build a mansion with your extended language. That is the work of a craftsman, and hopefully one day someone will look at your work and see the artistry.”

As I grow older, I understand my grandfather’s teachings and in turn, more and more I understand him. I wish he were here.