Finding Your Own Music

"Some people have fear about improvising their own music. They have invested so much time and care in playing music that has been composed by someone else — usually a dead someone else, like Bach or Ravel — that there doesn't seem to be any way of leaving the printed page.

"On the other end of the spectrum are the folks who avoid playing anything that sounds like anyone else; they need to feel original, to reaffirm in each note their personal freedom. There is a dread of being cliche, hackneyed, trapped by the culture: 'It's been done before.'

"Actually, all music is village music. We are collective beasts, more collective than individual. Our music reflects this. Even artists who seem to jut out angularly from their culture, like Beethoven or Cecil Taylor, are speaking for their village, though their village may be hard to find. Maybe theirs is a village of some particular mind set, a prevalent psychology, an ephemeral community of feeling. Even if their village seems crazy to us, or irresponsible, or suicidal, it nevertheless exists, just beyond the trees.

"On Bali there are villages where almost everyone carves or paints or weaves or plays music or dances. Though some individuals obviously excel, it is embarrassing to be better than someone else. The communal flow is highly valued; special talent is scarcely noticed. Too much recognition rocks the boat. Over the generations, Balinese art has become refined and extraordinarily powerful, but the contribution of individual artists is blended in very gradually.

"So the very idea of 'finding your own music' is in some ways counter to culture. Yet there are millions of us 'looking for our own music.' That's our village.

"The truth is, the line between what is uniquely yours and what is given to you by your culture is invisible to you. Don't worry about it. Your village is inside you. Your work is to go inside and bring out the sounds you like to hear. There is a sense of value inside you that is more powerful than either your individual self or your cultural self. And there are music practices that can lead you to that sense, and teach you how to hook into it, live inside it, and eventually express it to the assemblage of villages.

"If you enter sound deeply enough, you break open into that world, the soul world where universal music comes from. From that world a shakuhachi flute player plays, and Bulgarian women sing love songs. That village is the same village everyone is from. The gift of sound is that it guides your steps to that place."