Commencement Address by Kirk Nurock
New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music, New York City May 18, 2006
[Opening: Congratulations to the graduates and their families. Greetings to Program Director Martin Mueller and esteemed guest Mr. Bob Hurwitz. Short reminiscences of our classes together.]
Honorandus ab omnibus hominibus. This quote is from the Hippocratic oath doctors take at their graduations. "...a member of society with special obligations to my fellow human beings." Hippocrates wrote it in 440 BC. It's about ethics and morality. It says--among other things--that doctors shall follow a spiritual calling as they have been put on earth as healers.
Of course we in the arts also follow a calling...one so powerful that many of us felt it even in childhood. So I find myself wondering at your graduation, might there be some oath for musicians to take, to honor our calling. And--in some larger sense--why were we artists put here?
In our culture, artists seem to cultivate a kind of emotional awareness. We create heightened states of perception that can open the human mind and heart, allowing for enhanced inner reflection. We can also amuse, provoke, challenge...I like David Liebman's term "edu-tainment."
But let's get a broader musical perspective as we look back again to the Ancients. It was Pythagoras who discovered the overtone series in 550 BC. He also studied the planets and calculated that there was a kind of "music of the spheres"--deeply haunting dronings and ringings that he said continue throughout all time. Moreover, he found that their pitches are related to our overtone series and algebraically linked to human music and hearing.
It seems we musicians derive from this. It's as if we are all particularly tuned to the sonic universe and are here to continue creating its music. If doctors heal, musicians resonate.
I believe the Universe put so many musicians on earth because it needs us so badly. Though the economy and the marketplace may not bend to this force, it is clear we contribute to no less than the nurturing of humanity and the vibratory health of the planet. Musicians everywhere revivify the human spirit through sonic exuberance.
And dear graduates, each of you is central to this great echo. I believe that every time you play even one note in a practice room, a ripple is felt. And every time you perform sincerely and passionately for others, human evolution takes another step forward in its yearning for bliss
So amidst your ambitions to find work and create a survival for yourself, please always find time to care for your self and your treasure.
I urge you to avoid aggressive competitivism as much as possible. I urge you to avoid habitual self-criticism. Keeping our standards high is key of course, but being harsh on yourself will rarely create better music, let alone happiness. And as you grow older, especially, do everything you can to avoid bitterness.
Our egos always want external rewards. But I want to say that the gift you were born with IS the gift. If you sometimes feel you're not getting enough recognition...keep in mind that as an artist you were already highly recognized...by a sacred force far greater than some writer who works for a magazine.
When seeking success, always remember to give. Remember to resonate...with the society, the earth, and with our vast past and unknowable future. Be certain to keep the music of the spheres within your sphere. Duke Ellington once referred to music as "a system of ribbons, a multiplicity of ramifications, a million facets of gossamer sensations." [pause...] Somewhere in there, we all dance.
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An oath for musicians might include something like "I create to serve the greater good. My music is one with all music." But I encourage each of you to create your own oath, affirmation or mission statement. It could serve this current chapter in your lives and then be revised as you seek further horizons. Or the same one may last your whole life.
Before I close, I want to invite you all--and this is purely voluntary--to join me in some resonating in this very hall. If you wish to, please take a deep breath and begin to sustain the syllable Ah on any note at all. [KN conducts audience Ah.] Now we're going to sustain Ah again and slowly slide upward. [sliding Ah.] And finally, in great celebration of our graduates let's all do a big vocal shake...like this [all join wild shake].
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Now I want you to go out there wailing!! And cavort everywhere you possibly can in those millions of gossamer sensations!!