Amateur Music

Yesterday my husband performed two pieces by Rachmaninoff for the music group we enjoy so much. The recital included a ninety-year old playing a Chopin Mazurka from memory and an extraordinary eight-year old playing his cello! The cocktail party and conversation that followed were quite fine as well! Amateur music is alive and well!

There are several wonderful discussions about the power of music in The Elegance of the Hedgehog which I have been rereading  to prepare for Book Club this week.  I am enjoying it even more than the first reading, and I think I will revisit it often. Here is Paloma, the brilliant twelve-year-old co-narrator, distressed by the banality of her comfortable life and consumed with existential uncertainty, reacting to the choir at her school:

Every time, it’s a miracle. Here are all these people,  full of heartache or hatred or desire, and we all have our troubles and the school year is filled with vulgarity and triviality and consequence… it all disappears, just like that, when the choir begins to sing. Everyday life vanishes into song, you are suddenly overcome with a feeling of brotherhood, of deep solidarity, even love, and it diffuses the ugliness of everyday life into a spirit of perfect communion…. I see human beings, surrendering to music…. When the music stops, everyone applauds, their faces lit up, the choir radiant. It is so beautiful. In the end, I wonder if the true movement of the world might not be a voice raised in song.  (page 185)

Indeed! Paloma finds meaning and consolation in beauty, and finds that beauty is most powerful and accessible in music!

I know what Paloma means. Sometimes you can feel the intensity and joy only in an intimate setting, or only when inspired and dedicated amateurs are able to convey their own bliss.  No matter how brilliant, a professional performance with a large audience, or shared via electronic media, does not affect me the same way.

So I have been thinking about amateur music in particular and amateur participation in sports and other activities as well.

Turning, as usual, to the internet, I found this wonderful essay by Dr. Robin Kay Deverich. The whole article is  interesting and worth reading… just click the underlined link.  Part one deals especially with amateurism.  And although Deverich is speaking of the violin, the comments apply to amateurism, in the best sense of that word, in many other areas as well.  The article begins:

What is an amateur musician? The word amateur is a derivative of the Latin verb amo meaning:  to love. Therefore, an amateur musician is one who loves playing music. Common usage of the term, however, often differs from this meaning. Some of the definitions of amateur found in the Oxford English Dictionary include:  (1) “one who loves or is fond of,” and, (2) “one who cultivates something as a pastime, as distinguished from one who prosecutes it professionally; hence, sometimes used disparagingly, as-dabbler, or superficial student or worker.” It is this second definition, a condescending view of amateur musicians as being inferior dabblers, that often prevails in our era. Historically, this has not always been the case. As one author noted:  “At other times and places, musical amateurism has carried with it a very high level of status indeed, a status significantly higher than that of professionalism.

Let’s all put a stop to using the term amateur in a pejorative sense, snide and demeaning. Amateur music, amateur sports, amateur theater, amateur art… they are alive and well, and our lives are richer for it! There is nothing amateurish about this!

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