Was it Machiavelli who said it is better to be feared rather than respected?

A few days after moving into my apartment in Aley, I woke up at 5:00am with a lot of energy. I watched the sunrise, cleaned the house, and thought I’d go to gym. The last thing I expected to happen at 7:30am in a gym, was meeting a very interesting musician/industrial designer who also likes to train early in the morning.

 On our first meeting, I didn’t know he was a musician, but it later made sense because Talal was so considerate and aware that someone else is in the gym; he often tried to make sure that he didn’t get in my way, as I did the same. Later, we started to have conversations, and when he found out I was a Jazz musician, he said something like “Oh, you Jazz musicians can be so arrogant and self-indulgent… I find that Jazz musicians often choose to play music that only other Jazz musicians can understand. I think that music should be made for all types of people, not a small elite group.”

I couldn’t help but agree with Talal on this one. I didn’t even exclude myself from fitting that description because so many times in the past, I caught myself being arrogant and condescending to other types of “simpler” music, and those who perform it. And there’s the flaw, the tendency to think that complexity is more admirable than simplicity.

But, luckily, people change and mature. So it took a few years for me to get out of the elitist mind-set which is so common in the Jazz and Classical world. It’s just the way the music is taught and how students are indoctrinated into thinking that their music is much more valuable and praise-worthy than “lower” forms of art. How did I mature out of it? Very simple: I got my ass kicked playing “simpler” music, and I was introduced to open-minded masters who helped me see that a Beethoven Symphony contains the cosmos just as much as Folk Song, and that the latter actually survives longer. (these were the words of the special Catalan conductor, Jordi Mora)

One of my heroes, Charles Mingus, is quoted as saying: “Any fool can make the simple complicated, but it takes a touch of genius to make the complicated simple”. He wasn’t the only one to say this, I’m sure. But, how right was he? Very much so. It truly is the greatest of challenges, yet the most rewarding, to turn a difficult complicated task into a pleasurable simple activity. It takes a lot of awareness, precision, and patience to be able to do something like this. Whether it’s executing a complex lift in the gym, playing a fast musical passage, or composing a piece of music.

But, we still tend to respect what is beyond our understanding more than that which we can grasp immediately. However, I see two types of ‘respect’, one that comes out of fear, and one that comes out of appreciation. People respect a figure of authority, a tyrant, a boss, because they know that person can harm them, or at least limit the good things that come their way. People also respect, in a different way, an honest, non power-hungry person who can articulate what he feels and thinks with few carefully selected words that get straight to the heart of the listener. That’s actually one of the tricks politicians use: complicated, ambiguous language where phrases and words can mean anything but the terrible truth.

These days, I see that fear is a more intense feeling than love or appreciation. That’s why I believe the type of respect that comes from fear imprisons people; it traps them and limits their freedom. While the respect that comes from love and appreciation is actually such a light feeling that when I experience it, I am often oblivious to the fact that I am experiencing it. Actually, sometimes the moment you say “Ah, I think I am experiencing it!” it ceases to exist.

And so, with music and other arts, it is the same. There are pieces of music that make you go “Wow, this is beyond me, I’m not intelligent enough to understand it, but it seems very complicated”. Well, perhaps it’s worth considering the possibility that you are intelligent and sensitive enough, but that piece of music is not one that gets through to your heart. As there are pieces of music that just seep into our hearts without even need to ask for permission, why? Because these pieces don’t intimidate us as listeners, they do the opposite. They embrace our experiences give us a sense of unity, they make us say something like “So, I guess I’m not the only one have gone through this sorrow”. These pieces come from a humble heart, who knows that it is not unique and above all others hearts, but of the same material, on the same level.

So, after all has been said and done, yes Classical and Jazz music are not styles of music that are simple nor are they easy to learn. There is so much continuous history and information that led to the development of Classical music as we know it today. Then a much younger and playful style came in and built on that knowledge, that style is Jazz. While Jazz really borrows from so many different types of music, it has built the large majority of its harmonic language on what it picked up from Classical music. These two styles, often seen as the higher styles of music, are really not for everyone. The error is to think that if they are for you, then you are above everyone.