Politics in art versus the beauty of simplicity
By Charlotte Cerminaro
When the complexities of modern life begin to get so overwhelmingly difficult, impossible to understand let alone prioritize, sometimes drastic simplification is required to regain a sense of perspective. It's probably safe to say that the constant information overload only adds to the problem, so that just a short news clip on the latest presidential debate can be enough to send someone into a tailspin.
Lately I've found myself increasingly frustrated by the exponential intensification of difficulties brought on by outside influences. I have enough problems of my own and those of my family, so that undue interference from bureaucracies with their own demands frequently leave me in a haze of confusion, wondering where it all went wrong. Now more than ever, I've found myself thinking back on an earlier time in my life, when the most important things seemed obvious and the most profound things seemed simple.
Shortly after I left Juilliard and New York City, having won my first major audition for my first orchestral job, I found myself in the middle of a kind of cut-throat activism that one would expect on Capitol Hill. Still very much of an idealist myself, I was in it strictly for the music. Some of my colleagues, however, considered music secondary to power and control. That's not to say these colleagues were careless or sloppy musicians. But the majority of their interests and energy were spent in committees, union meetings, and making business deals onstage, via cellphone, five minutes before the downbeat. When they performed their only goal seemed to be self-protection -- hiding and trying not to make a mistake. Obviously, no professional musician easily tolerates mistakes, especially during a concert, but our first and main ambition is making great music. Our aspirations and strivings should be higher than the fear of missing a note.
Needless to say, when one finds oneself relatively isolated, where even good musicians succumb to the lowest common denominator, great musical moments are few and far between. In such a high-stress environment, a perceived lack of incentives or goals can quickly take someone to their breaking point.
One night, warming up onstage for the evening's performance, I suddenly had the feeling that I was in the wrong place. The music we were getting ready to play held no more interest to me than reading the Wall Street Journal. Confused, I instinctively turned to look for an ally, in this case the first trumpet player. When he saw my searching glance, though, he just smiled and gave me a "thumbs up". One of the stage hands standing nearby, seeing me look around, asked if our seating was okay. I said yes, but then suddenly blurted out, "I don't know what I'm doing here or why I'm even doing any of this at all."
The stage hand, far from looking surprised, paused thoughtfully. A little smile crossed his lips as he looked out at the audience. "You know, kid, my job is just moving chairs around. Your job is moving those people,to make them leap out of those chairs."
It was very simply put, but I knew he was right. As the conductor walked out, stepped up to the podium and gave the cue, the pure, beautiful opening notes of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony rang through the concert hall. I played that night thinking of the music, the composer and inspiring the audience.
I've played many concerts since then and have frequently thought back to that very simple realization. But the most surprising thing about it is that it can be applied to almost anything, not just music. When someone is trying to do their job and do it well, politics has no part in it. It doesn't matter what the job is. Whether it's a prosecutor, a bus driver, a U.S. Senator, a chef or a computer programmer, bureaucratic interference should not be part of the business. Even on Capitol Hill, the place that has become synonymous with politics, it could be argued that special interest groups, activists and bureaucracy have no place. Furthermore, the politicization of our public sector, and even much of our private sector, has led to a degradation in quality, consumer trust and finances.
There are certain things that just don't mix, and for good reason. We've all heard silly adages like, "Don't mix wine and beer." But used as a metaphor, it's a vastly simplified warning of what can happen when something pure gets tainted or mixed with something else, and it degrades, changes into an entirely different entity. The invasion of politics into every aspect of life not only heralds the destruction of institutions and culture, it is yet one more step in a series of ever-tighter restrictions on our liberty. While it is true that there is beauty to be found in simplicity, there is freedom to be found there, too.
Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing. © 2016