In the Goal for Gold, is Musical Spirit a Dying Flame?

Recently on Highlight Show 019, we hinted at an overarching concern in the musical world with composer Gunther Schuller: where has the spark in technically “perfect” musicians gone? Has it died out, or is it just dwindling?

One of our listeners writes that he asked this question of his daughter, an opera singer and pianist, who had an answer:

“She immediately said, ‘I can tell you exactly why that is.’ She said that in countless auditions where she has performed, the judges never look at the performer…they don’t watch them perform…they are only listening for the perfect voice or technical virtuosity on the instrument, and never get any kind of feel for the ‘musicality’ of the performer.”

On the show, Mr. Schuller says this lack of understanding of the music is driven by young musicians who all want to get into symphony orchestras, which requires auditions that call for technical perfection.

Perhaps the drive to win has overcome the love of music, especially when judges sit behind screens listening for technical glitches.

But our listener offered hope for musicians who still cling to their musical spirit. His daughter, who went to one of the largest graduate schools of music, never got into the chorus for her first opera season at the school. When the director of an opera company came to judge a grand opera competition at her school, she won and received the honor of the lead role in an opera season as well as a stipend.

At From the Top we know that winning is great (a lot of our alumni win great competitions all the time!) but we hope our young musicians and others across the country never lose sight of the prize — not first chair, money, or a tour — but an ultimate love, appreciation, and understanding of the music, as well as a commitment to communicating that love to others.

What do you think?