Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Beautiful Sound? Who cares?

It's summer, and I'm going over to play with the neighbor kids. I'm lugging along my huge bag of marbles of all kinds, sizes and colors, hundreds of them. We had countless average ones, some weird clay ones, dull ones, cracked, chipped, etc. But our treasures were the beauties that we never traded. They were clear, bright, colorful, and were everyone's favorites, almost known by name. They were distinguished by their beauty.

Often we would line up all the very best marbles together in a row. They should have been worth millions, we thought! At least to us kids they were invaluable. Life was about having the most beautiful marbles on the block. And life was good.

Sitting intently through a Cleveland Orchestra dress rehearsal today, I remembered those childhood days of treasuring our most prized marbles. There on one stage were assembled some of the world's finest musicians just a few yards away. Each one extremely valuable, and each one seeming to shine as beautifully as any of our childhood treasures.

I was struck by the attention to their beauty of sound, evenness in balance, blend, flexibility and the overall skill of each player. Even in a dress rehearsal with only eight people in the audience, the musicians cared about what they were doing. Playing great is their business. Whether they felt like it or not, wasn't a factor. They play beautifully because that is what they do. That is why they are there. A great marble is always going to be a great marble!

Playing beautifully has unfortunately sometimes come to be viewed as something less than desirable. The ugly, blaring, and the grotesque phase of the job can often overshadow the need for quality. Gorgeous playing has come to mean effeminate or weak. But in Severance Hall that concept is shattered. Big bucks are paid for the best marbles. Beauty is more than sweetness and finesse. It is an attention-getting quality of sound appropriate for the context. It may be extremely loud, but yet it maintains high quality. Beauty then is what wins points. It sells. Beauty is marketable and extremely valuable.

I was reminded today in the rehearsal that in the race for quantity, never trade away your quality. Don't loose your best marbles!

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