By Kerilyn Acer
“Artsy Fartsy.” This clever adjective has a nice ring to it and a legitimate meaning. Many people have trouble seeing the point of devoting all of one’s time and energy to the arts, to something so ambiguous. (For the purpose of this article, I will clarify that I consider this ambiguous world to include all those involved in music: performers, educators, composers, etc.) Beyond the careful study needed in advancing one’s technique and the music theory terms and composers’ biographies that can be memorized, what is the purpose of attending college to earn a degree in a field (excluding teaching) where, in the end, a degree holds little bearing?
Well, in order to attempt to answer that question, I will have to take you down to the practice rooms in the basement of my residence hall. There, emanating from behind the doors, you hear four or five vocalists redoing a short musical passage over and over again, each time with a subtle, barely detectable improvement. You also notice a few pianists continuously running through one piece, with each repetition only slightly varied in delivery and execution. This meticulous attention to detail comes from the fact that we musicians work with something that is always changing, constantly becoming what it wasn’t before, and with more always left to be uncovered. Though there are rules by which we play, the creative aspect of music makes it difficult to pin down a single reason why we do what we do.
Though musicians strive toward tangible goals (lead the church choir, land the record deal, write the symphony, take to the Metropolitan Opera stage), what our impact on the world will be is never concrete. But it is nonetheless remarkable and something to believe in. I suspect it starts with a quest for personal fulfillment that, having been touched by the power of the arts, lies solely within our “craft.” Outward from each personal journey stems the need to offer something of exquisite beauty, the calling to praise one’s own higher power, the desire to console, the want to capture a generation, inspire children, create peace, etc. These are things that are intended for the outside world and make the longest-lasting impact.
The practical application of what Westminster Choir College students do and what we will do for the world is only evident to those who believe humankind has a need for something beyond what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands. As a believer of this, I also understand how easy it is for the definition of our vocation to be blurry alongside professions of more pragmatic use. The reason for this lies at the core of music’s ultimate function and at the center of an artist’s soul: With music we can create what wasn’t in the world already and affect humanity in infinite ways, some of which are not yet even imagined.