Music 101: Humility

There are four cardinal virtues, first recognized by Plato, and later by Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas (and probably by people further along in the alphabet):

Prudence – the ability to let reason dictate action

Justice – the ability to interact fairly with others

Fortitude – the ability to persevere circumstance with dignity, and

Temperance – the ability to moderate sensual desires

It should be one of life’s goals to nurture virtue in ourselves and each other. The best way to develop our own virtue is through contemplation, meditation, or prayer, depending on your personal proclivities. The best way to develop it in others is to lead by example.

Music has its own virtues, including, if William Congreve is to be believed, the ability to soothe the savage breast, soften rocks, and bend a knotted oak. It also has the ability to join strangers in a common urge – to dance, or hum, or tap, or whistle, or kiss.

The virtue that is most underappreciated in American society, and therefore the one most in need of development, is humility. We are constantly being told to make sure our voices are heard, to be fierce, to be bold, to kick ass. I hate that shit. It is more understandable for women and people of color to reject humility, as they have always been instructed to be humble, but I think we could all use a little more of it these days. People can mistake humiliation, which requires weakness, for humility, which requires strength. Humiliation comes from without and humility comes, like music, from within.

Humility in music comes in knowing when not to play, or when to play something less technically impressive than you are capable of playing if it suits the song better. It comes in sharing any tricks of the trade you’ve learned, and thinking of all musicians, however rudimentary their skills, as equals, as teammates, as comrades-in-arms in a common effort to overcome boredom, conformity, and despair.

We, who are inspired, owe it to those who are feeling uninspired, to help them find a way to believe that something better is possible. That all those crazy, hopeful, impossible things like beauty, fun, and love, do exist, and we have proof. That, more than anything else, is our job.

The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?

Bob Dylan

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