Engaging those around us can happen…

…without our realizing it. And it can fit into lives in many different ways. This is a vital point for anyone whose career puts them in public view. As musicians / actors / performance artists / public figures we connect with people around us, often in ways that we may not even count on.

Solo at The Grand

Some years ago I was performing at an art gallery just outside of Philadelphia. It wasn’t a large venue, but it was filled close to capacity. While I can’t claim that everyone in attendance was a diehard Matt Richards fan, I did have a number of listeners there who were familiar with my music. During a break a senior couple came to me and introduced themselves — it turned out they had attended one of my solo performances at the then newly-opened Kimmel Center. They  did purchase a CD and tonight they were so delighted to meet me.

“Your CD is wonderful,” the woman said. “I love guitar music and we have a collection of guitar CDs that we play all the time.” The husband looked toward his wife and added “She insists you remind her quite a bit of her favorite guitarist, though I think your playing is different.” At this point the wife rolls her eyes in the manner of the long-married. Of course, my curiosity won’t let me stay quiet, so I ask “Which guitarist is your favorite?”

“Oh, now I’m embarrassed,” she replies, “Because you may not think you have anything in common….” She pauses, then grins and says “Ottmar Leibert. I just adore his music and certain things you play remind me of him.”

Ottmar Leibert performs with a group, playing music that usually has the word nouveau associated with it. He isn’t a bad player by any means — I just see my own music as more intricate and spontaneous. I manage to squelch my initial reaction to engage in self-centered re-education to delineate the differences just as her husband adds “We had a dinner party with friends and we played your CD during dinner. Everyone loved it! They asked to see the box and our one friend wrote down your website.”

My music had been reduced to dinner party backdrop, an ambient atmospheric landscape….. All the hours to compose, perform, record, edit, mix and master…. dinner music? However, within seconds I was graced by a wave of wisdom. I realized that my music fit a very special aspect of their lives. They had a collection of guitar-oriented music and my recording was important enough to be part of a dinner with their close friends. In a flash I realized this was a true compliment. It didn’t matter that they didn’t consider the time, effort and emotional investment required to produce my music — all that effort created the final result which touched their lives. That is what mattered.

“I do know Ottmar Leibert, of course,” I reply. “Do you think we sound alike?” I ask kindly. I’m not sure where in my life this is coming from. The husband replies “Well, I don’t, but she notices things I don’t. I’m sure you’ve heard of Alex DeGrassi — your playing is more like his.”

They DO know their guitarists! I am so very glad that my sensitivity and maturity won out over my ego in this conversation. We continued to discuss guitar music and my upcoming dates, all with my renovated sense of how my music and I connect with people at different levels and in different ways.

Since that time I am glad to have the opportunity for my music to reach so many people, whether as personal inspiration in life or as a backdrop during their day. And I now understand its far-reaching value. Daisaku Ikeda explains music and its power: “There is probably nothing that speaks so directly to the human heart as music. It needs no words. Transcending space, transcending time, transcending race, music addresses each and every one of us directly, heart to heart. Music has the power to cut across all barriers and make our hearts respond mutually to it.”

Daisaku Ikeda is the head of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International.

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