Incidental Music

Today I’m listening to my own work again for the first time in quite awhile. I’m in my favorite coffee shop in Kent Ohio. It’s not my favorite because of the coffee; it’s only good when they’ve brewed it freshly. For some reason their carafes don’t really do the job. Regardless, I’m here and I’m listening to my most recent album because I submitted it to a music-for-film licensing company, and I have a questionable habit of listening to my own music whenever I send it in someone else’s direction. Call it narcissism or insecurity, or what have you. As I’m listening to a quiet passage of one of my favorite tracks, I’m startled by the sound of a low-toned alto saxophone. Aware that I never touched a saxophone for the making of this record, and that I’ve never touched a sax in general, I’m naturally surprised, but only for a tenth of a second. The soundtrack to the barista’s quiet Tuesday afternoon is joining with my song, rearranging, rewriting, reimagining the notes I’ve already written, and in perfect rhythm, in the same key.

I love these moments. I ache at these moments. There’s no way for me to re-experience that incidental beauty. It’s like that moment when you see a beautiful girl from the other side of the street, walking the opposite direction. Her beauty is only a taste, and to your experience can only ever be that taste. To pursue her beauty at this moment would not only be aesthetically out-of-bounds, it would just be wrong and frankly creepy. So why do I feel so much frustration that I can’t record that recorded sax, or that passing train, or that road noise? Why does eros taunt me with her siren-song, weaving in and out of my melodies, promising untold and unimagined harmony, unexpected beauty?

I can’t possess beauty. The songs I’ve been given are temporary already, and any uninvited melodies that happen to coexist with mine are just as temporary. The duration of the experience of the beauty seems to mean everything to us as the listeners, but why should it? Why should I care about the length of a song? Why should a few seconds of extra saxophone or a lifetime of occasionally listening to my own album be such different experiences? My experience of beauty is always temporary…eternally temporary, a torturous paradox. In other words, I don’t experience temporality within the confines of my birth and future death, although I know theoretically this is true. Memory does not serve these boundaries, and my experience of the finite feels infinite, and so my experience of temporary beauty feels like an infinite loop of unfulfillment. Makoto Fujimura says that the more beauty is experienced the more oppressive it becomes when we don’t have a paradigm with which to understand it. How can I greet beauty as a friend and not a lover?

I have to love beauty as I love myself, as I love my neighbor. I love myself by seeking to understand myself, by maintaining my body and my mind and my spirit as best as I can. I do the same for my neighbor as far as it’s appropriate, and as far as it depends on me. I can’t worship my neighbor or myself; when I do, everything goes wrong. Beauty is my neighbor, not my god or my lover. I have to care for her, as much as it depends on me. I have to try to understand her. The beauty that God gives me to express I have to give away. I do my best to understand her, to incubate her, to prepare her for her life in the world, but when she’s ready I have to be ready too, and I have to give her hand in marriage. Out of all the beauties, she that I birthed is the one I can possess the least. I have to love her enough to let her go.

I have to rejoice at the temporality of my experience of beauty, weather incidental songs clashing in a coffee shop, or a lifetime of listening and creating. Time becomes less significant as I do this. Each beauty is experienced as a birth and a death, and the length of its life becomes peripheral in the focus of its essence. This is all very poetic, but it’s so difficult to put into practice. My thinking has to change, and this takes time. This is why I take time to think. Hopefully the change will take as I think within time.