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Monday, May 30, 2011

John Adams' (Composer, not President) Commencement Address at Juilliard

 Excerpted from Composer John Adams' Commencement Address at the Juilliard School. Read the whole address here. While I don't quite agree with the assertion that God doesn't "dole out talent in fair and equal proportions," (see Every Child Can) I think Adam's overall point has a lot of merit.

"But by choosing a life in the arts you’ve set yourselves apart from all that and from a nation that has become such a hostage to distraction that it can’t absorb a single complex thought without having it reduced to a sound byte. Most people now, and particularly most people your age, live in a fractured virtual environment where staying focused on a single thought for, say, a mere seven seconds presents a grave challenge. (I mention seven seconds because a staff researcher at Google in San Francisco recently told me that 7.3 seconds was the amount of time that an average viewer stays on a YouTube site before jumping to another page.) You have grown up in a world that offers constant, almost irresistible distraction not unlike what the serpent in the Garden of Eden offered to Eve when he whispered to her, 'check out them apples.'
The arts, however, are difficult. They are mind-bendingly and refreshingly difficult. You can’t learn the role of Hamlet (no less write it), you can’t play the fugue in the Hammerklavier Sonata (no less compose it) and you can’t hope to move effortlessly through one of Twyla Tharp’s ballets without having submitting yourself to something that’s profoundly difficult, that demands sustained concentration and unyielding devotion. Artists are people who’ve learned how to surrender themselves to a higher purpose, to something better than their miserable little egos. They’ve been willing to put their self-esteem in a Cuisinart and let it be chopped and diced and crushed to a pulp. They are the ones who’ve learned to live with the brutal fact that God didn’t dole out talent in fair and equal portions and that the person sitting next to them may only need to practice only half as hard to win the concerto competition."

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