Even Bad Mozart Is Hard

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019-08-07 12:00:00 No comments

I don't remember where I read this, but someone once said that if you want to hear the most beautiful version of a piano piece by Mozart, or Erik Satie, or whoever, it's going to be the one you learn how to play yourself.

For a long time I filed this one under Narcissism, because I didn't like the idea of encouraging people to be fascinated with their own work, their own selves, at the expense of others. It took a lot of time to get settled with the real truth of it, which isn't about narcissism but is about self-reflection. No prizes for guessing it was Zen that helped me see this.

Before I started sitting zazen, I'd done at least ten years worth of reading about the subject. Fat lot of good it did me, because it was theory, not practice. It took another ten years or so of sitting (more like twelve at this point) to feel like I understood even a fraction of what all that discussion was about.

If you listen to someone else's version of a piano piece, as most of us do, you probably have little idea of what it's like to try and perform it yourself. Even trying to perform it gives to an entirely different, and I'd say irreplaceable, perspective on the matter. Ditto writing a book vs. just reading it; ditto acting in a play vs. watching a play; the list goes on as long as you like.

None of this is me trying to construct a moralizing argument, that it's better to be a musician than an audience member. (Okay, it's probably better to sit zazen than just read about it, but that's because zazen is meant to be done and not read about anyway.)

What I'm saying is that there are things you just can't get any other way, and that if you care at all about having a deeper appreciation of these things, that's the way to do it. Some have no greater ambition than to sit in the audience, and that's fine. Those that don't only want to do that, owe it to themselves to level up.

At this point in my life I've either dabbled in or delved deeply into the following:

  • Writing (like, duh)
  • Zen Buddhism (again, duh)
  • Graphic arts and design
  • Music-making
  • Home improvement
  • Software development / programming
  • Cosplay
  • Filmmaking
  • Animation
  • Criticism and critical theory
  • Cooking

In many of these cases, I wasn't driven by a need to become a best-in-breed specimen of same, but a need to know the territory personally. One doesn't have to create a full-blown software stack to understand how hard it is to create one; you just have to get your feet wet enough.

The most beautiful Mozart you'll hear, the one from your own fingers, is beautiful because you now know what it costs to have even a bad version of Mozart out there.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that I wanted to know of a great many things, experience a number of them to some degree, and master one or two of them. The first one, I can satisfy by reading. The second, I can satisfy by dabbling. The third, I can satisfy by doing, and doing, and doing. Priorities. In every case, though, I wanted to know what was involved, the better to find the gratitude one rarely knows one needs to appreciate the results.

Tags: creativity