Coyotes, and the Value of Music

I lay awake last night, listening to the coyotes. Their strange melodies and conversations left me wondering why I couldn’t be more like them; content with my own voice, my own music. All the usual doubts surfaced: Does anyone care about my songs? Will they ever come to anything? Why this ache to be heard and acknowledged in the midst of suffocating obscurity? Does my music have any redeeming value at all? This post is my answer to myself.

MIA: Fame and Fortune
I’m not anywhere close to being rich. I have file folders bulging with lyrics sheets, song contracts, association memberships, instructional articles, and songwriting awards, but my wallet isn’t any fatter than the next guy’s. Add up my income from royalties, teaching gigs, session work, and performances, and when it comes to earning money I’m afraid my songs are worth very little. No value here.

I’m not anywhere close to being famous either. The last time I went out in public, no one recognized me. I was not asked for a single autograph. I don’t have a song burning up the charts today, and I probably won’t tomorrow either. In all likelihood, my songs will never equal the value to humanity at large that other works of music will. On that value scale, my songs aren't even in the same weight-class as works by Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Copland, Lennon & McCartney, Elton John, John Denver, Page & Plant, or the Gershwins. Not much value to be found here.

Will I still strive for both? Yes…but that is not why I write.

Why I Write
Obscurity and poverty be damned. I write because I feel compelled to, because I must. I write because I love the rush I get from putting words to music, and coming away with a message more powerful than either could have been alone. (Whoever coined the phrase “words are not enough to express how I feel” clearly never put them to music!)

Just as some people enjoy getting lost in a good book and losing all sense of time and place, I enjoy becoming lost in the work of songwriting - twisting and bending lyrics and melody lines until suddenly I come across a perfect combination of angles. All at once everything snaps into place - as if it could have fit no other way. It is the song revealing itself to me; showing me where it wanted to go all along. At that moment it takes on an existence of its own, and its heart is an emotion, an idea, an experience, or a feeling that came from me. It is something only I could have created. I write songs to experience that singular moment of clarity, that epiphany.

Value Found
I remain convinced that the exercise of creating music is equally valuable to anyone that undertakes it, at any level. I'm not talking about the quality of the music; I'm talking about the value of the creative experience. In this way, all songwriters are equal - the unknown amateur and the lauded professional alike. I consider myself equal to any songwriter or musician in terms of the joy I get from the experience of creating music.

The Benaroya Hall is home to the Seattle Symphony. Emblazoned on its side, in giant, recessed letters, is this quote by the late Aaron Copland: “As long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music will accompany it in some living form, to sustain it and give it expressive meaning.”

That is the real value of making music - the outward expression of some inner emotion.

Even coyotes know that.

*Photo by sighlobo.


Kathy said...

This is a very good reminder of why we do what we do, not matter what it is in life. Joy. It is so much more important to have happiness than money. Money is nice, don't get me wrong :o). But, if I had to pick one over the other.... joy and happiness will always win.

Hamblin Family said...

I have to say that I am with you and Kathy on this one. Have you ever really thought about writing? I don't mean childrens books. I know you have written one or two of those but I mean grown up stuff. You really have a way with words. You could write a self help book on motivation! I think it would be awesome!

Aaron Cheney said...

Sorry...I'm too busy being an unknown songwriter....

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