Piano in the Age of Climate Change

Fifteen-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg seated next to UN secretary general António Guterres at last week’s COP24

Last week in Poland, fifteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24). Out of the mouth of babes, a realistic and searing assessment of where we are headed, whether we like it or not. 

We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.

This girl has two things dead right: that climate change is much more dire a problem than our leaders are squarely facing, and that there is no point in trusting them to do anything about it.

We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.

Indeed. Thunberg’s speech to power is an inspiration, so I am going to fan its flame. Scientists are saying that we have a mere decade or so to change our behaviors sufficiently to avert a permanent state of climate catastrophe. It is time to anticipate this catastrophe should we fail to change the rules independently of the leading class. For the various remaining species of the earth (including us) to survive, we will have to choose change in spite of what world leaders are or aren’t doing. 

Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.

It seems that Ms. Thunberg is calling upon each of us to play by sane rules of our individual creation. Of course, it is easy to feel cynical about this prospect because most of us will do anything to resist change. Change feels inherently dangerous and even repulsive to our body-mind ecosystems. Still, if we can acknowledge and address toxic thought patterns where we live (so to speak), we open the horizon to positive motivators of love, delight, beauty, healthy community, and all the other things that seem to distinguish us as a higher life form.

On the other hand, if we remain the species of permanent war and knee-jerk survival behaviors, then our extinction will be truly ironic. I don’t think any other species has ever gone extinct by ignoring 95% of the range of its capability. I choose that number because scientists tell us that is the percentage of our time that most of us spend with our brains on autopilot, doing automatic things and thinking automatic thoughts.  And now, each of us is presented with the choice to either step up to the remaining 95% of who we truly are, in all our richness, or?….

As the Taubman Technique Demystified blog is about everything relevant to playing the piano whether it seems that way or not, we now get to our main point. Most of us, from within our individual subcultures, support existing frameworks for driving this planet into oblivion much more than we think. I am not just talking about behaviors that directly impact global warming like excessively consuming animal products, buying irresponsibly created goods, jetsetting, etc., as important as those are to mind.  I am talking about the way subcultures tend to be holographic replicas, in their power dynamics, of larger entities, the ones we associate with competitiveness and wanton gorging on everything emblematic of power.

Subcultures serve the hologram until someone makes a conscious and tenacious decision to create a shift. Absent that decision we keep the current of legitimacy running. But with each dissenting decision the entire hologram shifts because the whole reflects the parts. Behaviors within our individual subcultures do matter and it’s time to start acting like it.

When people act to harm, they do so out of injury to their human selves. They don’t feel whole and don’t feel at choice to change what keeps them feeling that way. For those of us who are pianists, we either substantiate agreements about what musical acts have value, or we don’t. We follow rules that pull us away from our own hearts, or we resist to make heart-centered choices. We corroborate with forces that undermine the innate musicality in others, or we consciously reverse the incessant and ill-considered competitiveness of our culture.

Music (even classical music) is not just a pretty thing, it is something we use. Anthropologists tell us that some human cultures have used music very differently than we do. Notably, certain “participatory” cultures have not recognized the concept of talent. These cultures acknowledged differences in skill level, and their members had musical preferences just as we do. Having trained all their children to be musical they then didn’t make a big priority of sorting people into categories of musical worthiness.  Could it be that, by investing so much in the construct of talent and worthiness, we play into fundamental paradigms of survival that are dehumanizing and that might quite literally help destroy us physically as well?

Those participatory cultures did not appear to demonstrate our level of rapacity. We Western capitalists, on the other hand, arguably have an unsatisfactory and dissatisfying relationship with music because our musical mores are primarily those of power and survival fitness. We are a musical culture of insiders and outsiders, of the unworthy as well as worthy, and we reinforce our categories with behaviors of a political nature. But what if music making is actually a huge and under-reported part of the human sanity equation?

People who are out of balance can lack the courage and will to change. Even rules intended to ensure survival, such as the kinds of rules behind the recent wave of violent protests in Paris, will be too great to countenance.  Those rules, unfortunately, ignored too much of the human psyche to be viable. I would propose, with Ms. Thunberg, that our contributions to a healthy future will be much more a matter of individual consciousness, from the grassroots.

It’s not useful to think survival first and the “frill” of a passionate pursuit (like piano) second, because human beings are by nature wired for thousands of times better than mere survival. How strange and beautiful that we can only survive by become fully and completely ourselves. But we can’t continue to do our art with sharp elbows, which is what we do in holographic survival mode. No matter our place in the economic or intellectual spectrum, that mode is our least sustainable given the specter of global warming.

This is why it is important for you to do your individual part to change the rules of piano culture. This is your time to change the hologram. 

I would like to dedicate this post to Matthew Greenbaum, my teacher, mentor, and friend. Matthew, you were the first to help me appreciate that music always serves a purpose, and I am very grateful for that.