Share or Stop Wondering Why No One Cares

The following is the text of a commencement address I gave to the 2013 graduating class of the St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts:

“Thank you, administration and faculty of the St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts for inviting me to speak to the graduates of 2013. It is truly an honor to be asked to speak to this graduating class especially since I have had the privilege of getting to know a few of them as students in the Minnesota Youth Symphonies. I stand here very proud of them and their peers who are ready for the next big thing in their lives, whatever that might be.

“It was a scant two score years that this trumpeter graduated from High School. It was a high school much like this one. That is to say that it was a specialized school for students that were interested in the performing arts in NYC. It was called Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music and Art. Now it is known as the NYC School for the Performing Arts. Many of you may know it as the school that has been the subject of two movies and a Broadway Show titled simply, ‘Fame’.

“It was important for me to have auditioned and gained entrance to a school where I felt that people spoke my language. My parents, who knew nothing about classical music, were supportive and my friends would always respond to anything mentioned about classical music with either a “Huh… okay, that’s cool” or a not-so-stifled yawn and a subsequent request to know whether the Mets had won that afternoon.

“They lost.

“At any rate, I loved the idea that at any time I could talk about any kind of music with any of my friends at school. I learned how to pronounce Mozart and Beethoven. I heard about trumpeters I’d never heard of. I learned how to follow a conductor in more nuanced ways. I learned that there were more orchestras on the planet besides the NY Philharmonic and that there were more conductors than Leonard Bernstein. I also learned that all-important skill of nodding my head rapidly when my peers were talking about things and I had not the foggiest idea what they were talking about. Who wanted to look stupid? Not I, certainly… especially if the one doing the talking were a pretty girl I liked! Oh, you would fairly break your neck nodding in ascension!

“I guess I’m saying that a whole new world had been opened up to me. There was a sense of understanding about things that, according to stereotypes of the day, a Puerto Rican teenager wasn’t supposed to know about. I was supposed to know about Latin band stylings not Tchaikovsky symphonies and ballets. I wasn’t supposed to be able to sit quietly and listen to a Bach violin sonata. I wasn’t supposed to notice that my theory music history teacher had placed the recording he wanted us to listen to on the wrong speed. Parents: please explain to your children about turntables and 33, 45, and 78 rpm records on the way home.

“But the fact of the matter is that I did those things. I learned to speak a new language from the inside out. I learned to expect a cadence to resolve. I learned to squirm when it took too long to resolve that cadence. I was delightfully surprised when the composer went in a completely different direction from what I expected. I learned to laugh at the parodies of Peter Schickele and his creation, P.D.Q. Bach.

“Those things I learned served me well when I auditioned for and was accepted to the Juilliard School of Music where I realized that all of those things I had learned… was just the beginning. Talk about breaking your neck to agree in pseudo-agreement. College life was full of trying to understand what you were supposed to learn and how deeply. And speaking of deeply… you soon learned just how deeply you could shovel the mental fertilizer that was served up during those fascinating discussions in the cafeteria. Legends of discussion were made between swallows of bagels and coffee. The champions of pseudo-philosophy were the ever-performing drama students. Yes, they were always on stage, even when in line to get a cup of coffee.But then you graduate from college and life gets very real. Food and shelter become essentials of life rather than just concepts. It’s time to put what you have learned to good use.

“This is the crux of what I want to impart to you all: good use.

“If your art serves only you then you will always be your own best audience. Now, there’s a dark side to that lofty ideal. Certainly, we mold ourselves to become our own best purveyors of what we have to sell. An individual’s voice comes from true commitment to the sincerity of what you’re trying to say. But “sell” is not a four-letter word. If you have a gift, you are meant to share it. Keeping it to yourself, because of a cynical view that others won’t get it, is selling mankind short. If I don’t ‘get it’, well, come on… teach me.

“You see, it no longer suffices for us to merely do what we do and punch in some imaginary time card. Life in the performing arts is no longer about letting someone else do the talking about music or dance or drama while we sit backstage composing ourselves for the performance at hand. We must be the ones to talk about what we do… and we must do so with gusto, with enthusiasm.

“When was the last time you sat down with someone who isn’t the least bit interested in what you do yet you tried to get that person to become interested in it?

“You, drama student: when was the last time you grabbed one of your friends who is a jock and enthusiastically sold him on the idea that Henry V contains the greatest pregame locker room speeches ever given?

“You, dancer: when’s the last time you sat down with someone with two left feet and showed them a clip of a maiden dancing herself to death in the Danse Sacrale of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring?

“You, musician: when’s the last time you allowed someone who never played a chance to hold your musical instrument and make a sound on it? To all of you: when was the last time you sat down with a non-musician and discussed being able to hear the difference between acoustically produced music and synthesized music? If you don’t think it’s an important distinction tell me the last time you heard a professional orchestra in the Twin Cities play as the pit orchestra for a full, two-week run of the Nutcracker ballet.

“Well, here’s a news flash for you: if we aren’t directly involved in helping people with no connection to performing arts learn about and appreciate what we do, no one will be around to appreciate what we do. We have become too insular. We preach to the choir because it is safe. It is easy. We now live in a world where if you want to see a great symphony orchestra play on TV it’s only on PBS. My dear young people, do you understand that I grew up in a time where I could hear the NY Philharmonic three times a year on the CBS television network? Now, it’s in a domain for those who already know. We stopped sharing and people stopped caring. We have made electronically synthesized music into something it was never meant to be: a substitute for humans playing instruments. We have devalued the idea that the sound of a real violin is worth the expense.

“We have a great responsibility to share our art, irrespective of which discipline you pursue. There are myriad reasons. First of all, when you receive a gift and you’re around other people… you share! You don’t hide in a corner eating chocolates and enjoy their sweetness without sharing. First, you make everyone else’s life sweeter. Second, you might encourage others to want and go get their own chocolates once they’ve tasted that sweetness. That makes them and the people that make those chocolates very happy!

“We need to talk about what we do, not cloister ourselves in a place because we have decided nobody ‘gets’ what we do. You all need to, for the rest of your lives, include those who are not yet part of the world you created. It is a mission in which all of us have a stake. My stake is to continue this tradition of art for art’s sake. My stake is to make people aware of the fact that the sciences today exist because of mankind’s instinct to sing, dance, act out a story, and paint. The desire to codify and understand the physics of the art that is natural to us came from art itself.

“Talk about it. Play it. Act it out. Paint it. Do it until you see the glimmer in the eyes of those people who you think don’t ‘get you’ finally do. Then start all over again. Do it until you die. And if you have done it right, those that you have taught will remember. Those with whom you have shared will share. Those whom you have valued enough to take the time to show why you love what you do… will love what you do.

“Thank you and God bless you.”

© Copyright Manny Laureano 2013

2 thoughts on “Share or Stop Wondering Why No One Cares

  1. Debbie Ingram

    Excellent address, Manny. Very thought provoking. I wish I could have been there to hear you deliver it. 👏👏👏

    Like

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