Making Music When You Can’t Make Sense

Todd A

, Inspiration

Last week, after the election results were determined, I felt…the only word I can think of that sums it all up is: “gross.” I had no one way to explain it. It didn’t boil down to a “my candidate lost” scenario. It was something new and more disturbing. I don’t have a complete understanding of it yet but I have a feeling.

That feeling is this: more than any other political campaign during my life, this presidential election was defined by its toxic rhetoric. There was little talk of policies, promises, and the usual bromides of hope and progress. Or rather, what little talk there was about a positive way forward was drowned out by vitriol. For more than a year, we have been breathing this noxious cloud. The morning after the election, I started my day feeling poisoned.

Whatever your political leanings, you may have felt this too. That type of rhetoric doesn’t blow away in the breeze. It takes a while to dissipate.

My musical urges and my personal life are driven by a desire — a principle even — to be genuine. Politics is often disingenuous. Watching, hearing, conversing in the muck and mire of a political campaign requires facing a lot of disingenuous, base impulses. After more than a year of the worst muck I’ve ever experienced, it’s hard to re-orient myself, to find my sense of what’s genuine in a world that celebrates disingenuousness.

It took a few days of deep breaths and consciously regarding what I consumed in the media to find my footing. That footing is what it’s always been: making things, specifically music. I thought about the column I wrote after a mass shooting in Texas that killed several police officers. In it, I told the story of Leonard Bernstein’s quotation:

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

What was all this toxic campaigning but rhetorical violence? It was attacking our consciousness every day. Like I said in the week before the election: “playing music is an act of peace.” That’s even more true after watching a nasty, long political campaign.

I knew within a day of the election results that I was going to do what I could to disperse the toxic cloud by playing more music and sharing more of it. I can’t make sense of everyone else’s thoughts; I can’t understand everyone else’s desires. But making music is as much about listening as it is about playing. I hope that practice will grant me more compassion and understanding.

Our world is shaped by what we put into it. If we don’t like the toxic rhetoric, we can’t just say it sucks. We have to work to dispel it by making something positive.

There is a meditation practice called “Metta” which practices loving-kindness by directing positive energy outwards, towards others. It often involves saying:

May I be peaceful.
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be safe.
May I be free from suffering.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.

The idea is that you start by offering yourself kindness and well wishes and then turn your attention to your family, to your friends, to your community, to your city, your county, your state, your country, your world. One way I was taught to practice is was to imagine that on the inhalation, I was inhaling all the negativity and suffering in the world and on the exhalation, I was breathing out positivity and love to the world.

That’s your music: metta. It’s you saying, I’m going to take all the negative shit in the world and make something positive from it. It’s sucking this toxic cloud in and breathing out clean air.

Whatever your politics, put your music into the world. Make it and share it. It’s a peaceful demonstration. It lifts suffering. It encourages happiness.

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