Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Another Culture 

I had an experience last night of attending a concert of contemporary music written over the last 50 years by a well-known composer whom my family had met while vacationing in Rome. It was humbling. I had never heard the squawks and yawps emanating from clarinet, flute and oboe nor the amazing leaps and microtones of a soprano and mezzo. It was as if I had blundered into a new land and was hearing the language of a strange people for the first time. I needed a guide, a cultural expert, someone to lead me through the intent and structure of the sound. Others in the small audience seemed to know and appreciate his work while I sat helplessly and watched.

It was a good lesson for me in communication. There are many areas of human experience and creativity that need translators who can explain one world to another. Even those who have sought to cross borders of culture and thought can run into barriers.

The composer made no attempt to explain what he was doing but based on thousands of hours of listening to music, his compositions, some more than 50 years old, are not readily grasped by average listeners. The composer could pity me for not rising to his level of hearing, or I could condemn him for being too academic. Neither reaction would help much. Rather, I need to research what the composer writes to see if I can hear somewhat in the way he does. Perhaps then I can decide whether I like his music or not.

I would have been more comfortable at a convention of quantum physicists, but I wouldn't have learned as much as I did last night about my limitations as a communicator.


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