The Music of David Salminen

Archive for January, 2013

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” Albert Schweitzer

For many years, I nursed a hope that great music, in and of itself, could awaken a moral conscience in people. As Plato put it and apparently believed: “Music is a moral law.” This hope continued for a number of years even after I was introduced to the notion of a necessity for successful performing musicians with ethical aspirations to introduce sophisticated means of “rehearsing the audience”. This introduction happened in 1974, in sessions with the visionary futurist and exceptional amateur musician Anthony Hodgson. Investigating this question of music vs. “music plus” on my own, again and again, with audiences open to rehearsing – as well audiences that remained non-rehearsed or even non-rehearsable (resistant to listening sensitivity exercises) I gradually began to see things differently.

1974 was a big year for me in several ways… Aside from starting to introduce some of Hodgson’s music listening exercises to my own concert audiences, I graduated from Clark University with a degree in psychology. And – something I will try to write about in detail some other time – I had a particularly exceptional experience while performing some of the G. I. Gurdjieff – Thomas de Hartmann piano compositions for a group at Boston University, that opened me up to the sense of St. Paul’s famous line “Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I do not know.” 1974 was also the year, for better or worse, that I became a working professional musician in Los Angeles, California.

I had been involved with the Gurdjieff-de Hartmann literature from 1972 on, having been introduced to that unique repertoire by J.G. Bennett and various “Gurdjieff Movements” teachers – notably Pierre and Vivien Elliot, and Anna Durco – who along with Bennett himself, had been at least for awhile in contact with Georges Gurdjieff and/or Thomas de Hartmann personally. This training and experience in an esoteric art form was built upon many previous years of traditional lessons and classes in Western classical music, and some familiarity with jazz technique and theory as well.

Various musicians in the Western classical tradition have affirmed this striking notion that art in and of itself may be practically amoral, and must be intentionally linked with imperishable values if it is to have significant ethical weight. But the idea is by no means universally accepted. Two outstanding examplars of “music plus” from the world of popular music would seem to be the late John Lennon, and Bono. In the classical world, I think that obvious proponents of the principle of linking art with something more than art include Dame Myra Hess, Pablo Casals, and Albert Schweitzer. Historically speaking, the great Baroque era composer J.S. Bach was as clear as anyone has ever been about this ethical basis: “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hubbub.”

Albert Schweitzer said about himself that his life was his best “argument” for his beliefs. Nonetheless, he was also actually a very articulate thinker and writer. I recently came across the following article, profound and amazing in its relevance to the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that began March 11, 2011. Although not about music or even referencing music per se, the article strikes a tone that is quite congruent with the search for a universal harmony:


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