I was reading recently an article G.K. Chesterton: In Defense of Amateurs from Charles Chu. It is interesting reading especially when considering that Musicably is about amateur musicking.
At the same time it is quite telling, that although the article analyzes what an amateur is, in comparison with a professional, there is not one mentioning of music. This caught my attention, because not that long ago, an amateur musician was quite common occurrence. And that not only in the middle class Europe or America. If we go further back to the history, in the 18th and 19th century, a part of a good education was to be able to play a music instrument. As the author writes about the etymology of the word: “Originally, to be an amateur simply meant to love something.” Not anymore.
As music has become ubiquitous, too many people took the most comfortable approach – and became pure listeners. Why to bother with purchasing an instrument, learning, and practicing? It is so easy to just push a button on your radio or click an app on your smartphone. One simple move – and all the music is available. Immediately. Even free!
The thing is, that listening, in comparison with making music, offers far fewer benefits. And that especially when talking about playing music as an amateur. I like Chesterton’s quote from the article “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”
That is exactly it!
Let’s forget for a moment the mindfulness with its nonjudgemental part. It is a crucial part of Musicably, but this quote is still a great summary of our effort here. Playing music is definitely something worth doing, regardless if it is good or bad. Moreover, musicking on an amateur level is unthinkable without passion. Here is Chesterton again “A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well. Such a man must love the toils of the work more than any other man can love the rewards of it.”
If you are interested to read and learn more about the world of amateur musicians, I recommend two beautiful books. Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing With Others by Stacy Horn, describes experiences of the amateur choir singing. The other one is The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari L. Goldman is a funny reading about the author’s experience learning to play cello.
This is only one angle from which you can look at making music on an amateur level. Another angle is – from the perspective of other benefits a player acquires from this seemingly unrewarding activity. It is wellbeing – a better physical, mental and social life. Feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. Pure joy of a successfully played music piece.
Charles Chu finishes his article quoting Simon Leys’ essay on Chesterton. There he compares the other side of the spectrum – professionals. “None of the activities that really matter can be pursued in a merely professional capacity; for instance, the emergence of the professional politician marks the decline of democracy, since in a true democracy politics should be the privilege and duty of every citizen. When love becomes professional, it is prostitution.”
Where comes a professional musician here?
Professional musicians occupy almost impregnable top layers of various music charts (if those are still reflecting the stage of the industry…). And the music industry itself has been run mostly by lawyers and bankers, currently transitioning to the IT geeks. All these professionals don’t seem to be doing the best job, especially what the new music concerns.
So, there is again more space for amateurs. With their passion and love for music, amateurs can bring a fresh and original air to the whole music industry.
Before that happens, we need to condone the very word amateur. Instead of stigmatizing it, we need to embrace the amateur music making. We need to motivate everyone to engage with active music making as much as possible. Professional musicians work hard to meet expectations and needs of the paying audience and thus to make living.
Amateur musicians don’t need to serve anyone, except the music itself. And that is their power.
If you are considering to start making music as an amateur musician, check Musicably. You can find here information and help how to start.