Do you have to be a moral person to be a good musician? Does character and personality count in order to be considered a successful musician?
Well, if you define a good musician as a person who is what we call moral – with good standing in society, irrespective of their ability to play a music instrument – then great, there are a lot of musicians in this world.
However, if you think a musician is someone who makes nice sounds by manipulating a piece of material, irrespective of his or her moral values, then that’s a completely different ball game.
So, it depends on what you, as a unique individual, define as a musician; For instance, do you believe a musician is the greatest person in the world, regardless of his level of music mastery. Do you think a musician is a person that uses an instrument wonderfully despite of his personality traits?
Recently, a fellow pianist was telling me the following story: Many years ago while he was still at college studying piano, he had a classmate that he despised. Apparently, she was pompous, she was a know-it-all person, she was quick to criticise and condemn her fellow musicians, and her facial expressions were always giving an aura of pitifulness and snobbishness.
He remembered with skepticism her ironic chuckles in the corridors of his college, and he was changing paths when she was walking like a diva in his direction.
He was certain that she didn’t deserve to be called a good person, let alone a good musician.
Then, one day, he attended one of her recitals. He remembers he was full of rage about her and expected to be, at the least, tormented by her performance. However, what he experienced was in contrast to what he had envisioned.
Apparently, her tone-control was monumental. Her technique was at such an extremely high standard that he felt hypnotised by her total energy at the keyboard. He suddenly felt detached by her peculiar personality and he started experiencing some new personality angles to admire. He was thrilled. Somehow, in the course of a few minutes, his perception of her character changed dramatically. “Was that even possible?” he was wondering.
After the concert he kept asking himself how it was possible for an “appalling” person to be a skilled performer, and why his perception of her character changed just because she was delivering a couple of notes with flair.
Morality Helps Musicality
Even though I strongly believe that moral people have an advantage when it comes to succeeding in becoming good musicians, here are my thoughts:
1. I believe that just because someone has a not-so-great character, that doesn’t mean that they can’t use an instrument wonderfully. Otherwise, only good people can be good musicians, and this, logically, is somewhat far-fetched.
2. Morals don’t necessarily strengthen your technique; practising does. Well, except if your music teacher says that you are a bad person if you don’t practice scales for half-an-hour a day.
3. Immorality doesn’t make you a good musician either. Again, I have a suspicion that good-all practising helps a lot.
So, an immoral person, or a “bad” person as we say, can often interpret very well because his morals are, more often than not, disconnected from his effort to study music.
Also, the ability to physically “connect” with masterfulness with the workings of an instrument is not particularly connected with the respective morals of each society.
Sometimes, perhaps, rogue personalities can be interesting musicians too, since their questionable personality traits have inevitably shaped their musical language. For example, some rock stars have created music that is appealing to many people, because their “dark” pasts have shaped their music creation; so, what they’ve created can resonate with other people’s experiences and views. Don’t forget that the end user of music (the audience) is the ultimate judge of the quality of an artist. So, what we consider as “good” or “bad” music, often relates to our own morals and cultural references to life.
Musicality Helps Morality
Unquestionably, moral values can inspire you to become a better musician. Creating desirable sounds through an instrument shows our innate need to create beauty – and this in itself can only lead to good things in life. But morals cannot be a substitute for studying music in depth.
To finish, yes, personality can shape an artist’s musical language but it cannot characterise it as good or bad.
Musical language is unique to every person, and it’s neither bad nor good, or better; we need to understand this for our future musical development. When it comes to decide what is a successful musical performance, we must distance ourselves from trivial matters such as an artist’s political beliefs, moral references, choice of personal style, and we must concentrate on the musical aspect of …music.
© Nikolaos Kokkinis – 24/September/2013
I intuitively think that the morality of a person is in a completely different section in relation to their other attributes that have to do with character, behaviour, political views etc. Morality, in my head, mostly relates to one’s principles. I feel that, as far as principles are concerned, for an immoral person it is more difficult to come close to the beauty music consists of. Therefore, I incline to believe that morality and musicality do come together.
Yes, excellent thinking! I agree that morality and musicality go hand in hand. And, as ever, thinking and debating about the never-ending beauties of music is always great. However, philosophy and all can go astray if we can’t be bothered to sit down and practise.