Attribute #2: The Complete Contemporary Musician, in addition to having a meaningful purpose for his music and art (Attribute #1), will have a solid understanding of artists who have come before him, along with the ability to perform their works.
A “know-it-all” attitude is not a flattering characteristic in a world replete with opportunities in the acquisition of knowledge and understanding. If an artist is unwilling to admit that he doesn’t “have it all together” in every aspect of his life and art, he ultimately is a shallow person, with a shallow future of productivity. Only by realizing that there has always been, and will always be, someone else better at some skill or some knowledge, can the artist have enough hunger to grow in new areas.
“My son, if you will receive my saying, and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:1-5)
Treasure is wealth, and the wealth we are talking about is: wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is the gaining of facts, understanding is the arranging of those facts, and wisdom is the proper application of the understanding gained. (Many people have knowledge, but they are completely lost when it comes to applying that knowledge or even understanding what it means in a larger context.)
No matter what artistic genre the artist may be involved in, perhaps even having been skillfully involved for a number of years, there is still room for growth. There is still time to ‘step out of the box’ to consider something never yet seen or experienced.
For example, a pop/rock drummer could set a goal to be able to read through a score of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, or to conduct through parts of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. A classical musician could take some time to transcribe a Miles Davis or Led Zeppelin solo and practice it on his instrument. There are numerous possible examples, but the main stream of thought here is: expand the normal borders of your art! Don’t just stay in familiar territory, try something new to you. Make personal history. It may have already been done, but not by you!
There is a vast reservoir of knowledge just waiting for the taking in the history of Western Art Music (or Classical Music, as we have commonly called it). The lessons we can learn, however, have somehow gotten buried by the glamour and glitter of our current-day pop-culture’s examples of quick fame and fortune (and ‘throw-away’ art). But the lessons are still there, nonetheless.
Many contemporary musicians, even if they have spent some time studying the Great Masters of old, have unfortunately been content to simply leave that history in the past, missing the opportunity to use the gained revelation as fuel for rich, dynamic creativity today.
History is a little like the dinosaurs of yesteryear, having decayed, yet now useful as fossil fuel for our modern-day automobiles. The process of transforming the creativity of yesterday into fuel for today is what will bring meaningful richness to today’s art. To put it bluntly, if the artist has no historical knowledge, his art will have no power.
Just studying history is not enough, though. The artist must immerse himself in the best possible way: through performance. There’s something profound about giving one’s time and energy into the recreation of historic art. Through performance, the lessons get inside of the artist, becoming a part of his inner-consciousness. As he goes through the process of bringing the art to life for today’s audience, he ultimately plants seeds of greatness into his own life, as well.
Honoring history is a little like the Scriptural admonition, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” (Eph. 6:1-3)
If you want your art and creativity to live long and prosper, learn to honor those who have come before you, be willing to ‘go digging’ for hidden treasure in fields you haven’t yet seen. Through the process you will discover riches beyond comparison, deep rivers of inspiration, when everyone else has run dry!