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Singing to No One

January 26, 2019 (499 words)

I happen to be a big fan of any sort of live music. It can be a jazz trio, a symphony orchestra, or a high school marching band. There is something about people making beautiful noise on a musical instrument that floats my boat.

But my early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine effectively limits the opportunities to enjoy such expression. Of late, most of my exposure has been the odd night out at local drinking and eating establishments that feature the proverbial “live music” on certain days of the week.

Out here in the sticks this invariably takes the form of an older white guy sitting on a stool in a dark corner of the room, strumming an acoustic guitar, and singing what for my generation now constitutes the Great American Songbook: The Band, the Beatles, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, James Taylor, and the like.

The quality of these performers does tend to vary. Most are capable on their instrument, while their vocal abilities noticeably waiver during the course of an evening. But each one, in my experience, gives it their all, and is trying their best to entertain us with a most precious commodity: real, live music.

When in attendance I can usually be found slapping the table in time, tapping my toe, and singing along. But most everyone around me is paying absolutely no attention whatsoever to the musician in their midst. They are engrossed in conversation with the person next to them, or pre-occupied with their hand-held device, or fixated on the multiple big screen tvs mounted in most public houses these days.

With the emergence of high-quality recorded music in the last half century or so, we have come to take its presence in our lives for granted. Music is now just another readily available commodity. But I believe another reason we are given to ignoring the stranger who shares their art as we eat and drink is that so few of us practice any sort of art of our own anymore.

In this context I would define “art” as any endeavor not centered on the earning or spending of money. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when men and women had “hobbies.” Remember what used to be referred to as the “‘domestic arts”? This term once described a broad range of creative and productive activities, mostly enjoyed by women, all of which have now gone by the wayside.

Men, too, had their favored pastimes that engaged their creative – and in some cases even a contemplative – side. Pouring ourselves into things not related to commerce helped give our lives meaning.

Rather than casually dismissing the live, local performer as a poor facsimile of our favorite record, we should appreciate the music-making as a personal art form being shared with us, his neighbors. And we should set about finding an art form of our own to pursue.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
January 26, 2019

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