Jeffry Hamilton Steele

Honesty in Music


I believe that our relationship to music, as with our relationship to anything or anyone, needs to be examined periodically to determine if our present needs are still being met by it. When we stay with things because they are "comfortable" or provide a sense of "security", we may discover down the road that this very comfort was keeping us from growing. Just as our relationship with a person can grow dysfunctional if it is not freshly re-examined from time to time, so too can our romance with music. Both often begin in a state of infatuation. I recall how exciting it was to first hear and see the Beatles. There began my own, and an entire generation's, infatuation.

Most of us musicians can recall a moment, or series of moments, as a young person when we vowed to make music a large part of our lives. So moved were we with the power of a performance, or the encouragement of a teacher, that we committed ourselves to the purchase of an instrument, daily practice and perhaps weekly lessons. In essence we began a relationship which like a romantic relationship would have many stages to undergo before maturing (infatuation, conflict, compromise, growth of the individual). For some of us it may have been an arranged marriage, dragged to lessons as a child and developing our proficiency in the spirit of obedience.

A lot of us may have taken up the guitar, for example, because we fantasized becoming rock stars. We may have felt a lack of love in our environment and concluded subconsciously that the best way to get love was to get good on guitar. After all, we idolized our guitar-heroes; didn't it follow that we would in turn be idolized if we made it big? Though a misguided endeavor, it was our best thinking at the time. It got us going. Simultaneously, we were moved by the power of the music we heard on guitar, and so were also drawn to learn to play out of our God-given instinct to express ourselves.

But until we fully transform the ego-driven portion of our musical psyche into a selfless desire to give to the world, or until we heal whatever other hurts went into our decision to become musicians, it will be reflected in how we play.

The sign of a mature, self-actualized musician is effortless playing of great expression. Anything beyond that usually signals unresolved childhood hurts that somehow got attached to music making. Exaggerated gestures, unrequired tightening of muscles (in face as well as hands/arms) appear to result from a lingering need to "prove" oneself perhaps to a chronically dissatisfied parent. Similarly, messages received about somehow not "being enough" for just being you, manifest in musical performance through major alterations of a piece, special effects, etc. all for the sake of being distinctive.

Whether it be creating our own music or interpreting that of others, we need to constantly be listening. Is the inflection I'm giving here what the notes are truly asking for? Am I slowing the tempo here for the sake of the music or because I heard so-and-so do it like this?

These are my opening thoughts on the subject. WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS TO BE HONEST AS A MUSICIAN?
(Feel free to write with questions,
comments or just to say hello).