I often wonder what would happen if our world experienced a paradigm shift in consciousness. In the vast urban centre where I live, my morning commute swirls around in frenetic chaos: people and vehicles race left and right. Waves of crowds swell within and on top of each other, awash in noise and disassociation. Patience runs astonishingly thin. Individuals in acute crisis are as numerous as those who attempt to ignore them. Human interaction is minimal. Everywhere there is evidence of addiction: to caffeine, to tobacco, to screens, and to distraction itself.
Viewed through this lens of experience, we are utterly separate from each other. It would be understandable if we became completely lost in this fog, dazzled by normalized notions of individual freedom and abundance. Of course we feel relieved not to be the homeless person struggling with psychosis, as we rush past them. Of course we feel comforted by the jolt of energy from our coffee, our hit of sugar, or by whatever entertainment absorbs us. Of course it would be understandable to hustle around permanently in this headspace, trying hard to get ahead in our lives, or minimally to not be left behind. If only what lay beneath this disassociated state was not an incalculable suffering, stemming from the illusion of our complete isolation from one another. Yet the hope, to my eyes, is this: what lies beneath such suffering is a deep and shared yearning for healing. I witness this hope regularly in my work at the deathbed: in the eyes of the dying, and in the eyes of the people who love them as they slip away.
Art, to me, is not entertainment. Art transforms our headspace into one where focus on the individuated self, and the warts-and-all experience of our physical existence temporarily recedes. What we are afforded instead is a wider field of vision in which our inevitable painful experiences and isolations and limitations as human beings can also be viewed as experiences all human beings share. And through this lens, as the illusion of separation comes into focus, our suffering comes into view as but one part of a larger context of existence that also includes shared joy, love, and a shared yearning for feeling liberated. We become whole, because we realize we are no longer alone. In this context, art becomes nothing less than an arena for human healing.
Music is the art form to which I have dedicated my life’s work, even as I continue to struggle and journey to make sense of its place. I continue to strive to learn how to honour the gift of experiencing the full and complete trust of artists who have asked me to help shape their creative identities.
In channelling my nurturing instincts as a teacher I strive towards a flourishing of authentic evolution in the musicians I work with, validating their own instincts to take possession of personal imagination, curiosity, and intuition. By exploring such innate wisdom concurrently with the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, traction can be brought to the innovation process.
As the student becomes aware of this process they also become aware of their power to establish new models, new contexts, new connections, new approaches, and new cultures in their professional lives. They become aware of the need for confidence, courage, and both emotional and physical stamina to preserve their capacity to flourish. Teachers have an enormous responsibility to communicate these messages and to stand as a compass for their students as they drift to and from centre, inevitably, amidst the chaos of the maturation process. Teachers have an enormous responsibility themselves to also engage their own maturation process: to question and challenge themselves continually, to keep learning, to keep evolving, and to strive for deeper honesty, deeper authenticity.
To be a teacher is to continually accept that I need more knowledge, to help my students become stronger than myself, and to insist they dig out new infrastructures for professional artistry in this century, with their own bare hands. Our students are agents of this paradigm shift; our world needs them more than ever, and they know it.
Toronto, May 2018
Photo credits: Helen Tansey (Portrait); Instrumental Society of Calgary (B&W); Drew Marshall Show (Studio)