This is the tale about a drummer who meets an unexpected visitor. The story begins:
It’s Tuesday night at 7 P.M. The guys in the band are gathered for rehearsal: it’s Boomer on bass, Napoleon on guitar and lead vocals, Concerto on Keyboards, and Triplet on drums. They’ve been practicing hard…with blood, sweat and tears. It’s been a long haul, but now they’re tight. The music begins and they groove into the stanza. Suddenly, something sounds wrong – like a broken washing machine!
Napoleon: Hold it! Stop! Triplet…is this a new form of drumming we’re being graced with?
Triplet: Come on, lighten up! I just had an urge.
Triplet: That’s right – a creative urge. I changed the meter from 4/4 to 5/4 …you know, creative self-expression?
Napoleon: Oh, I see. (Suddenly there is a knock at the door)
Pizza Man: (his name is Sophonius – his attire unusual) Here’s your pizza, sir.
Concerto: Who ordered pizza?
Napoleon: Not me.
Triplet: Not me.
Boomer: Not me…but what kind of pizza is it?
Sophonius: It’s olive – pepperoni – pickle – pineapple. We call it 4 top/4 portion – for short “4/4”.
Napoleon: Hear that, Triplet…4/4? I guess you won’t be having any pizza since you’re a 5/4 – man.
Triplet: Very funny! (turning to Sophonius he says) I’m being bugged about expressing my musical self!
Sophonius: You mean there are bugs here?
Triplet: I mean I’m being harassed.
Sophonius: You mean bugs are harassing you?
Triplet: No, man. I mean there is a lack of appreciation for my style!
Sophonius: And every musician wants to be appreciated -doesn’t he?
Triplet: Right, and since I am a musician, and an artist, I have to express what’s inside of me – my creativity -don’t you agree?
Sophonius: Creative expression is the life-force of the arts, still there are common sense principles that shape and guide its form.
Triplet: Such as?
Sophonius: Such as, there are other people in the band besides you!
Sophonius: And isn’t the purpose of the band to merge the creativity of all of its members in a harmonious way, so that each compliments the other to achieve the mutual goals of everyone?
Triplet: I guess that’s what it’s all about.
Sophonius: Your band, or any band for that matter, is like a mini-society, or team – all working together doing their part so everyone benefits. In fact, that’s the way the whole world was meant to work, you know…but that’s another conversation.
Napoleon: Hey, who are you anyway?
Sophonius: I’m Sophonius.
Concerto: Where’d you get a name like that?
Sophonius: It’s come down through the ages.
Concerto: And where’d you get clothes like that?
Sophonius: Those, too, have come down through the ages.
Concerto: (scratches his head)
Napoleon: Are you really a pizza delivery man?
Sophonius: I do whatever is needed.
Boomer: Hey guys, the pizza’s getting cold!
Triplet: Hold on just a minute, Boomer! Sophonius…all this talk about mutual benefits and goals…it cramps my style.
Sophonius: What style is that?
Triplet: Feelings…any and all! That’s my style – and if I don’t express my feelings in my music then I’m not being honest. Don’t you agree?
Sophonius: Not quite. Honesty doesn’t mean “let it all hang out” just because it’s there and you’re feeling it; what it does mean is to ask whether or not the feeling is actually appropriate in relation to its object.
Triplet: Appropriate in relation to it’s object?
Sophonius: Yes. Tell me, Triplet, if you felt a romantic love for a rock would that feeling be appropriate?
Triplet: That’s a strange example but I see what you mean. So then what’s your definition of appropriateness of feeling?
Sophonius: Then I should say that an appropriate feeling is one that is harmonious with its object.
Concerto: OK, now let’s apply that to music.
Sophonius: Consider this: music is the most mathematics of the arts. Since music is so dependent on math for its composition, shouldn’t some of the order, reason and freedom from error inherent in math be present in music as well? If instead music expresses chaos or contempt and loathing for such things as life or virtue or reason or authority or any other noble and good thing, then that music can not be appropriate to any of them.
Triplet: I don’t get your reasoning.
Sophonius: It’s simple. The laws of nature that govern mathematics and everything else in creation follow order, not disorder. So music, based in mathematics, must also follow those same laws. Chaos is wrong because it goes against the laws of nature – it’s dis-ordered – and musicians are not supposed to create disorder. If chaos results in order, who needs an artist? – or God?
Concerto: Then according to you, only sweet and nice music is appropriate and good!
Sophonius: Certainly not. Sweet, nice sounding music is not always orderly or reasonable in effect – it can cause weakness, self-pity, or egocentricity.
Triplet: What then is your definition of “good” music?
Sophonius: Good music sounds like the way other good things look – sound – taste – feel and smell. It is soothing, unabrasive, wholesome, harmonious, exhilarating, comforting, nourishing, and so on. It is not disordered. Instead it enlivens within us the good and beautiful, the noble, the fine. No one looks for food that causes indigestion, why then should we listen to music that causes physical pain to the ear and psychic pain to the heart?
Triplet: I think I’ve heard enough! We’ll just pay you for the pizza and get on with our business!
Sophonius: What business is that?
Triplet: Music, man! Our business is music, not philosophy!
Sophonius: I see. You want to separate music and philosophy then?
Sophonius: Then you don’t know how closely related they are?
Triplet: No, and I can’t imagine how they could be.
Sophonius: Well, Triplet, you don’t have to look far.
Triplet: What do you mean?
Sophonius: I mean feelings…any and all, and if you don’t express them in your music, then you’re not being honest. Didn’t you say that just a few minutes ago?
Triplet: You mean to say that that’s a philosophy?
Sophonius: It is. You see, all of our attitudes, assumptions, beliefs and reasoning that we live by, whether true or erroneous, make up our philosophy of life. Whether we know it or not, our philosophy, ordered or disordered, finds its way into not only our music but our works of art, dancing and painting, political institutions, social customs and all sorts of unsuspected places.
Napoleon: Hear that, Triplet…you’re an unsuspected-musical-philosopher!
Triplet: Give me a break, Napoleon. Alright, Sophonius, so maybe music and philosophy can’t be separated – but I don’t care.
Sophonius: Maybe you should.
Triplet: What are you talking about?
Sophonius: This: did you ever think that an erroneous philosophy embedded into music by way of lyrics, rhythm and tonality could cause both musician and audience harm?
Triplet: I never thought about it.
Sophonius: Plato did.
Sophonius: He knew that music and philosophy were not only inseparable, but that music was even more powerful than reason in the soul.
Triplet: Keep going.
Sophonius: Plato believed that our attitudes, beliefs, and reasoning, in fact an entire nation could be ennobled or degenerated by music. That’s why at his Academy in ancient Greece the first course in their curriculum was not reason or logic…but music.
Triplet: Are you kidding?
Sophonius: Not at the moment. Plato used good music to create the harmony of soul that would be a ripe field for the higher harmony of reason to take root in later.
Triplet: So, let me get all of this straight – you say that the power of music can have a positive or negative effect.
Triplet: But that music’s real purpose is to bring about the harmonious, the good and the noble?
Triplet: That’s all well and good, but I still don’t understand how my freedom fits into all of this.
Sophonius: Can you explain what you mean by “freedom?”
Triplet: It’s to live my life and pursue my happiness through my music the way I alone see fit and I’d like to add, without any restrictions from your “laws of nature”. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that’s what the Declaration of Independence says you know.
Sophonius: You seem to think freedom has no cost.
Sophonius: That’s right.
Triplet: And what’s the cost?
Sophonius: The cost for the privilege of freedom and its benefits is moral responsibilities, obligations and sacrifices. There are no free rides.
Triplet: That’s outdated thinking, Sophonius. Our generation broke out of that yoke!
Sophonius: Really? It looks to me like you’ve got egg on your face!
Triplet: Cute! That’s funny.
Sophonius: What’s funny…that you have egg on your face?
Triplet: Come on, get serious.
Sophonius: What’s serious?
Triplet: Freedom is serious!
Sophonius: Is one not free to be funny?
Triplet: You know what I mean.
Sophonius: I see, and getting out of that yoke brought you “serious” freedom?
Triplet: What it brought me was real freedom.
Sophonius: And “real” freedom means doing whatever you want whenever you want, as you have more or less said?
Sophonius: Triplet, is it freedom for its own sake that you want or is it really the happiness that freedom can bring you?
Triplet: It’s the happiness that freedom can bring.
Sophonius: So then you agree that freedom is only a means to an end; it’s a path only but not in itself the final destination?
Triplet: O.K., right.
Sophonius: What if I told you that the happiness you seek through freedom can be found only through this thing you call a yoke?
Triplet: What do you mean? How can a yoke around the neck do anything but bog you down?
Sophonius: Bog you down…or guide you. It all depends on whether you see the big picture of things.
Triplet: Can you speak in plain English, please?
Sophonius: Certainly – using that “yoke” of moral responsibilities, obligations and sacrifices ensures our going with the laws of nature instead of against them. Going with them guides us to a true happiness; going against them bogs us down to the chains of passion.
Triplet: Chains of passion? Aren’t you being a little dramatic?
Sophonius: Strange that you would object to drama in a discussion of art.
Triplet: Look, Sophonius, what’s the big deal with the yoke anyway? I don’t see what practical bearing it has on how we live our lives.
Sophonius: What then do you think has a practical bearing?
Triplet: My freedom – it always works for me.
Sophonius: Freedom is pragmatism? The Fascists were very practical. Hitler and Mussolini got the trains running on time.
Triplet: I never thought of it that way.
Sophonius: Would you say that it works for you when you overindulge your freedom by over eating or by not getting enough sleep; and then find yourself confined to a sick bed?
Triplet: I get your drift. But no matter what the consequences are, it’s still my freedom, to use as I see fit.
Sophonius: Then you see freedom as an object of ownership?
Triplet: You’re right on the mark!
Sophonius: Where then is your receipt?
Triplet: Wait a minute! Are you telling me that my freedom is not my own?
Sophonius: Since you are familiar with the Declaration of Independence, do you think freedom is a man-made invention or a natural thing made by God?
Triplet: Well, the Declaration does say “endowed by their Creator”, so I guess freedom is a natural thing made by God. What difference does it make?
Sophonius: A big difference. Because freedom is a natural thing and a privilege endowed to us by our Creator, it therefore can not be the object of our every whim, appetite and passion like choosing food on a menu.
Boomer: Speaking about food, is that pizza for display only, or to eat?
Triplet: Wait, Boomer, Sophonius is really on to something here.
Sophonius: We’ll meet again, Triplet… I’m sure of it. Then we can talk some more. The pizza is on me, everyone…Bye!
Napoleon: Come on everybody, let’s eat and then get some rehearsing done.
It’s Saturday afternoon. Triplet is jogging in the park. He’s been thinking a lot about his conversation with Sophonius. Suddenly someone comes up from behind and is jogging along side with him.
Triplet: It’s you…Sophonius!
Sophonius: I told you we would meet again.
Triplet: I’m glad of it. You know, Sophonius, as antiquated and strange as your ideas are, you really got me to thinking about a lot of things.
Sophonius: Like what?
Triplet: Like what you meant about freedom and the chains of passion.
Sophonius: Well, the chains of passion in modern culture take shape as an insatiable appetite for power, possessions, money, options and self-gratification – and no matter how much is had, it seems never to be enough! America has more freedom than at any time in history – but are its people happier; more at peace within? Are they truly free, or slaves to their passions?
Triplet: Sort of like that sick bed situation?
Triplet: O.K., Sophonius, there’s some truth to what you’re saying and I can deal with your ideas about the laws of nature and true freedom, but all this stuff about “cost” and moral obligations makes me really uncomfortable. I get the distinct feeling that you’re headed down the road of morality and that’s where I draw the line! Morality has its place in some things, but definitely not in music.
Sophonius: So you want to separate morality and music as you wanted to separate philosophy and music?
Triplet: Uh oh, here we go again! Look, Sophonius, I can swallow your “buddy system” of philosophy and music, but morality and music…no way.
Sophonius: Tell me, Triplet, what is your definition of morality?
Triplet: This: that it’s everyone’s personal and private decision about what’s right and what’s wrong.
Sophonius: So then you think that morality and truth are defined merely by personal preference, or opinion or passion?
Triplet: Absolutely! And that’s the popular thinking these days, that absolute morality doesn’t exist, that there’s no such thing as right and wrong and everybody is free to create and live by his own rules and values. But I can see you don’t agree with that.
Sophonius: I think not, and I think I can show you why with an experiment to test your definition.
Sophonius: By announcing my own new “value system”. It’s this: I have won this argument with you because I am older than you are. My eyesight is sharper and I don’t need glasses, as you do. I am therefore wiser than you.
Triplet: That’s crazy, Sophonius. Do you think you can win an argument just because you have gray hair and don’t wear glasses?
Sophonius: I do, because those are my values. If I were teaching a class in music history and you were in it, you wouldn’t pass my course if you were one of the younger students wearing glasses.
Triplet: That’s not fair!
Sophonius: Fair? What does fair mean? Remember, fairness, or justice and all the rules of right and wrong are whatever I choose them to be. Are you imposing on me some objective and universal standard of justice to which you expect me to conform? What right do you think you have to impose your personal, subjective values on me – and why should I conform to them? After all, Triplet, my subjective standard is just as valid as yours, and if morality is relative then there is no objective standard of right or wrong. In my value system, age and sight make right. But, to my arbitrary subjectivism you now reply with an appeal to morality – to be “fair” and expect me to fall into line.
Triplet: Boy, you caught me there, Sophonius.
Sophonius: Triplet, do you realize that you’ve just had a natural, inborn reaction to injustice: to a wrong having been done to you?
Triplet: I guess it was pretty spontaneous, wasn’t it?
Sophonius: That’s due to an instinctive morality written not only in your heart, but in the hearts of every human being that has ever existed.
Triplet: I have to admit, Sophonius, that’s a lot to think about. This is all turning my world upside down you know!
Sophonius: Maybe your world was already upside down – and now you’re just seeing things right-side-up!
Triplet: I think so, and what I’m seeing from your shrewd experiment is that morality is part of human nature and can’t be separated out from us. I never thought I’d be saying this, but human beings are… are…
Triplet: …moral beings!
Sophonius: And since we are, then whatever role we play in life, in art and entertainment, business, politics, journalism, science or education – no matter what it is – morality is an ingrained and inseparable part of it all. To say that man can live without morality is to say he can do without the very blood that flows through his veins – it’s impossible. And if we try, there are inevitable consequences. Look around you, Triplet, do you see the signs? An alarming acceleration of crime, drug abuse, breakup of families…even the devaluation of human life itself; not to mention a multitude of other afflictions.
Triplet: O.K., so we are moral beings and there is a right and wrong, but what bothers me is this: who qualifies as judge to determine for all what’s right or wrong, is it you, my uncle Joe, the government?
Sophonius: It’s not a question of who, but how.
Triplet: What do you mean?
Sophonius: To start with, your conscience – it’s your internal guidance system. Your conscience tells you to do right and avoid wrong. It lets you know when your reason is off track, a sort of “moral thermometer”.
Triplet: So then the judge isn’t my uncle Joe, you or the government, it’s my own conscience and reason, right?
Sophonius: There’s more to it than that. We can and do go wrong. Our conscience is fallible and can be numbed and blinded by the force of our self-interests and appetites, by misinformation, or by sheer ignorance.
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Sophonius: Consider this for a moment: would you depend on a roadmap written by a mapmaker whose source of data was his personal feelings, beliefs and opinions?
Triplet: No way.
Sophonius: Then would you say that our conscience is a kind of “roadmap” that guides us through the many decisions and choices we make on the roadways of life?
Triplet: I like that idea. Yes…I agree.
Sophonius: So isn’t it important then for the data we feed our conscience to be correct so right choices can be made – like navigating by a good map?
Triplet: That makes sense.
Sophonius: Well, the reliability of conscience can be greatly enhanced by our seeing the big picture of things.
Triplet: Now you’re intriguing me with this “big picture” idea. What is the “big picture?”
Sophonius: The “big picture” is the overall structure and workings of all that exists in creation; workings that are guided by those laws of nature I mentioned before, laws that have been established and perpetuated by God – the Creator of all things.
Triplet: That’s a lot to chew on.
Sophonius: Perhaps less than you think, Triplet.
Triplet: I’m all ears.
Sophonius: You mean you chew with your ears?
Triplet: No, no, Sophonius…I mean you have my complete and suspenseful attention.
Sophonius: Then here we go. Remember your old friend the yoke?
Sophonius: Part of that yoke is a moral obligation to inform your conscience: to seek out the truth – the big picture – then live by that truth once it is known. No one, including musicians, is exempt from this.
Triplet: I suppose that’s one of the costs you talked about?
Sophonius: It is. And the cost is a bargain considering the product.
Triplet: What’s the product?
Sophonius: The product is that real freedom you were looking for.
Triplet: So that’s how it all ties together. Let me get this straight… from what you’ve been saying, Sophonius, mathematics, music, and even my musical talent and creativity all fit into the big picture and have to follow those laws of nature or things won’t be quite right, right?
Sophonius: Right. Whatever claim music has to freedom of creative self-expression or to an “artistic license” it is a claim that does not and can not absolve anyone from the responsible and respectful use of freedom – and anyone means everyone who plays a part in the creation and promotion of music.
Triplet: And musicians can either contribute to the problems of this world by ignoring that responsibility or be a part of the solution?
Sophonius: You’re on the right track.
Triplet: I’ve always thought that music was just a means of self-expression or social statement. Sure, that’s part of what music’s about, but I see now there’s a lot more to it than just that.
Sophonius: Indeed there is. I sense what you’re referring to is music’s high calling – that of ennobling society – bringing to it harmony, beauty and virtue.
Triplet: I think so, Sophonius.
Sophonius: So what part will you play in it all, Triplet?
Triplet: A part that I hope will make a difference. You know, I don’t feel stifled by all this anymore, in fact I feel strangely free.
Sophonius: That’s the effect of the yoke and the happiness that comes with it.
Triplet: Well, here we are – it looks like we’ve reached the end of the jogging path.
Sophonius: It also looks like we have reached the end of our chat…for now anyway.
Triplet: When will we meet again, Sophonius?
Sophonius: That will depend on how many pizzas I’ll be delivering. There are a lot of “orders” out there that need to be filled, you know.
Triplet: By the way, you might want to tell your boss that he bakes a heck of a good pie…even though it was delivered to the wrong address.
Sophonius: Thanks, I’ll give him your compliment; as for the address – he never makes a mistake – every pie he creates finds its destination.
Triplet: You sure are a mysterious guy, Sophonius – a good egg too – and none of it’s on your face either!
Sophonius: Thank you, Triplet. Will you mail me a copy of your new music?
Triplet: You can expect a CD.
Sophonius: Who is Dee that I’m going to see?
Triplet: No, no, no…CD is not a person that you’re going to see, it’s a form of music.
Sophonius: You mean, I’m going to see music? That should be an experience!
Triplet: Tell you what, Sophonius…I’ll do better than a CD, we’ll play it for you live.
Sophonius: Thank you, Triplet. I’m sure my soul and sensibilities will be raised to new heights.