Music and Kindness & The NY PHILHARMONIC 1969

I am approached often after a Chamber Blues concert with comments like this; "The way I think about music has changed forever.   I have just witnessed two seemingly opposing forces (blues & classical) that have unexpectedly worked perfectly well together.  I've also experienced blues fans and classical music fans responding in unison.  It gives me hope that the seemingly opposing forces of diverse culture, race, religion, even opinion and desire, can also work well together."

This 'bringing together' of seemingly opposing forces is something music can do very naturally.  Democracy has to struggle at this.  For one, when people of multiple culture, race, religion, desire, opinion, are steeped in the ecstatic musical power, they can be swept away from these mundane (yet truly brilliant) differences. 

In general, the arts are very unique. It's very difficult to do something in the arts that is divisive, dangerous, or hurtful to someone else. Certainly with great intention it can be done. But the arts bring people together in an experience of joy and they feel a 'oneness' that was really already there.


When I was guest soloist with the New York Philharmonic in 1969 - with the great conductor Seiji Ozawa - the newspaper reported that the generation gap that evening was wider than the Grand Canyon. The people in the audience wore minks, tuxedos and evening gowns.  The musicians on stage looked like penguins.  My blues band walked on stage; Tom Blecka, Russ Chadwick, Albert Joseph; Long hair, Jeans, bell bottoms, amps and guitars.  The audience in Lincoln Center booed and hissed with anger and hatred.  Seiji Ozawa turned to me and said; “What should we do?”  I knew that Seiji already knew what we should do but he wanted to hear it from me.  “Seiji, let’s just have some fun!” 

At the end of the concert the audience was on their feet immediately.  The president of the symphony association told me it was the most intense and longest standing ovation he could ever remember in Lincoln Center.  The headlines in the NY Times reported; “They Love Corky Siegel in Lincoln Center.”  And it went on to say; “The audience did not merely like it, the audience loved it!”  This was Harold Schoenberg the very feared classical music critic. 

What is significant here is that I experienced a musical performance dissolving the bitterness and hatred into nothing.  Again, the audience came together in an experience of joy and oneness.  Again, music has the tendency to uplift and bring people together.  I said to myself; “Now I know why I do what I do. And now I know how I can serve humanity.  And I can do it through music for the rest of my life without having to worry too much if I might be doing harm”  So my job is to serve music and let music serve humanity.  


I suggested to a friend that speaking from the gut is not a recommended approach for social interaction. 

A friend asked me; "But don't you play from the gut?" If I had answered without thinking I would have said; "sure."

As I said in the blog article: Expression in Music is Not a Skill:

All my life instructors, other musicians, and people in general, would talk wisely about "playing from the heart." I would ask;
"That sounds wonderful, but what does that mean?" 
And they would try to explain what it means with various levels of non-success.  Then I would be compelled to ask;
"Well that's nice but how do you do it?" 
[[ End of conversation!  ... fade into silence ... everyone in room exits stage left & right ]] 
So I set out very early on to find an actionable answer to this question; 
What can I 'do' to assure I'm playing from the heart. 
And very early on - I found something that actually works so well it is mind-boggling! 

So as you can see I am one who over analyzes things that many others take for granted.

I've never thought about what the term "playing from the gut," might mean to me.

Music is Pretty Safe

But music is pretty safe.  Unless intended, it's unlikely to hurt others.  So playing from the gut or the heart will not make a big difference to the listener.  The difference is mostly for the performer and of course that will get to the listener at some level. But we are talking about esthetics when applying the idea to music, not social interaction.  Words can be hurtful even if not intended.  And they certainly can be hurtful and dangerous if there is intention.  So speaking from the gut without the use of what is known as the gates of speech is not going to be smart or healthy. 

The Sacred Gates of Speech

Before you allow the words to pass through you and out into the world you first ask:

Are they true? Are they necessary? Are they kind? Are they beneficial? Is this the right time.?

Speaking from the gut defines the passing over of the gates of speech. i.e. Right from the gut, right passed the heart and out into the world, without a thought about their consequences,

Playing from the gut is ok. It's an esthetic and it won't bring hate or unkindness into the world. 

I don't know the answer to the question now.  I'd need to think about it more.  But I sense that because I try to play "with every cell of my body" that at least the gut might be included.  Still I do care about how my music effects the world.  There is enough ugliness out there, enough anger. I want to be careful to only bring good. That's why I try to perform with a "heart-felt" intention.  And then there is the most profound approach of simply being a conduit for the muse or for God to speak though you.  And that is defined by most people as synonymous to playing from the heart.  And that's what I try to do. 

But the point I want to make in regard to current events is this:

Words can be used for unification, love, kindness, expressing wisdom, or they can be used for divisiveness, hate, ignorance, and completely selfish intent.  Words can also be directed toward, individuals and groups to hurt, insult, and create false reality.

Again. Everyone has probably used words in hurtful ways. Hopefully we learn.  But it is rare that a presidential nominee is doing it purposefully, and somewhat consistently, and takes delight in it.  We are entertained by it. This gives this behavior power.  Certainly we have a lot of good reasons why we want ‘our’ team to win.  But if we allow this behavior to take over we all lose.  

That's why I ask my friends to put their faith in Kindness.

Hate and lies will always win in the short term.  But Kindness will survive in the end. We are being tested.