Filling the Instrument with the Breath of Life

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SKF NOTE: Here is a favorite universal description of the relationship of living musicians to their lifeless musical instruments.

In James Baldwin‘s story, Sonny’s Blues, Mr. Baldwin’s character, Sonny, is an aspiring jazz pianist. Baldwin’s musician/instrument description is written through the eyes of  Sonny’s unamed older brother — a non-musician math teacher:

I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. He has to make it do what he wants it to do. And a piano is just a piano. It’s made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. While there’s only so much you can do with it, the only way to find this out is to try; to try and make it do everything.

end

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