A music lesson from Seymour Bernstein
Our talents aren't what we do, they're who we are
The benefits of music are vast and varied—both through listening to others and in participating in it yourself—and we’re all aware of many of them. Still, if you need more convincing, below are some of the biggest ones. These are all quotes from Seymour Bernstein, a pianist who is as inspiring as he is talented. He's now nearing 90, and he's had an impressive life. He had an international and very celebrated career as a touring musician, though he gave it up in order to teach. Forty years later, he's still doing that. He's also the subject of the documentary produced by Ethan Hawke, Seymour: An Introduction.
Seymour Bernstein is a celebrated pianist, teacher, and subject of a new documentary, Seymour: An Introduction
“Music speaks concordantly to a troubled world, dispelling loneliness and discontent, its voice discovering in it those deep recesses of thought and feeling where truth implants itself.”
In a study in the US, group piano lessons were shown to relieve anxiety, depression, and loneliness. It can both relax and motivate us, often at the same time. And, as impressively demonstrated in the documentary Alive Inside, it can open doors of memory, even brining people from near catatonia due to dementia to a joyful interaction with the music that they are hearing and the people around them.
“If you accept that your true self is what your talent is, your real identity lies within that talent that you have a passion for.”
Eating, sleeping, dressing … these are not the things that define who we are. What does? Talent. Passion. We need an outlet for that, just as desperately as we need oxygen and clean water.
“The social world is very unpredictable [whereas] your art is very predictable. So as you develop your emotional, intellectual and physical worlds through your art, … [you can] direct that into your everyday life.”
There is a reason that some stories make great bedtime stories, the ones that children like to hear over and over again. It’s because, even if we know something, it’s nice to be reminded of it from time to time. Music can direct our attention to things we’ve been forgetting, and that renewed awareness can carry over into all the other aspects of our lives. (Think I’m wrong? Listen to Paolo Conte’s "Via Con Me." Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?)
“I never dreamt that with my own two hands I could touch the sky.”
The fact is, at any age, there are some things we can’t do. Like making sense of quantum mechanics. Likewise, at any age there are some things that we used to do that we can’t do anymore. Like trick or treating. But what Bernstein is saying is that we can do more than we think, and in ways that we never imagined. We just need to take a chance.
“The most important thing is to inspire an emotional response for all aspects of life."
Retirement is the right time to pursue the passions that you were not able to fulfill when you were busy supporting your family. Piano lessons, guitar classes, ukulele groups—there are many avenues to pursue a passion or a talent for making music. That said, passion and talent aren’t the prerequisites. We don’t need to be good, and it’s not about performance. Think of music as a book that you haven’t yet read, or a movie you haven’t yet seen. Be selfish. It’s not about giving, it’s about taking. It’s not about anyone else’s experience or interest but your own.
"Music, like life, is about dissonances, harmonies, and resolution. I believe you won't enjoy that resolution unless you have that dissonance. What would it be if we didn't have that dissonance? We wouldn't know the meaning of the resolution."