I was recently told by a music promoter that I should amend one of my Facebook posts to include the reasons “why” I am a musician, what drives me, and why the viewing/listening public should click on one of my links. This is a question that I have been asked before. “Why music?” It is a fair question, I suppose. People imagine that there is some splendid reason why you have chosen to devote your life to a particular craft. Maybe they wonder why they have not discovered their own passion. Maybe they have themselves convinced that they know the correct answer to this question and are just testing you to see if you know it too.
I have thought about this question a lot. I have been a musician my whole life. I have devoted all my time, energy, and indeed my life, to music. Not engineering, medicine, politics, sports, or some other art form, but music. Why?
I don’t know.
A professor of mine in college once asked me the same thing toward the end of my time as her student. I had thought about it before, but I still had not come up with a good enough answer. I asked the same question of her to see if perhaps she had fashioned some clever response to this question that would render the asker completely satisfied. You know, like those scenes in movies where someone is vying for a particularly difficult-to-obtain position in a company and the interviewer asks them the obvious “why did you choose this?” question? Then they give the perfectly clever, somewhat mischievous, and ultimately sincere response that causes the interviewer to smirk and rest assured that this person is the right person for the job. Well, my professor did not have that answer. She said, merely, “I tried not doing it, and learned that I was not a pleasant person when I was doing anything else.” In essence, she was saying that creating music is what sustains her. It is in her code somewhere and that’s that, as far as she could tell. It is exactly what I would have said if I had thought that it would have been accepted as a satisfactory response.
But I think the real answer is that it simply does not matter. Who cares? Why does a football player play football? If they are driven and talented, does it matter “why” they are either of those things? People wanted to watch Ray Lewis because he was fired up and damn good at defense. Did anybody ever ask “why?” Why does Ray care so much? No. Of course not. It is an unanswerable question.
From there, you could ask if sports themselves have any real meaning or purpose. I have pondered the same question about music in a blog post about aesthetic relativism.
But not to digress, you could easily make the argument that Ray Lewis would have done better to spend his life doing other things. He is an able-bodied, intelligent man. He could have spent his life building sustainable housing in destitute communities. He could have gone to law school and been a public defender. He could have been a farmer, or a teacher, or whatever the more virtuous choice might have been. You could go as far as to say that it was arrogant and selfish to choose a career in football over a life of selfless virtue. But he simply did not do any of those things. He played football. He was good at football. He loved football. People were happy with him playing football. That is what he was driven to do. Asking “why” he had that drive is akin to asking why humans exist. Nobody has the real answer. He felt a purpose, he cultivated it. The end.
The truth is that I do not know why I am a musician. I could spin anecdotes about my childhood, my musical experiences growing up, etc., just as I am sure certain athletes might tell you about their parents’ love for the game that they grew up to play and all that whatnot. I could tell you what my hopes are for how people connect with my music, and what kinds of things I seek to achieve with my music, just as a teacher could explain their goals and hopes for their students. That does not really tell you why someone chooses a life devoted to a particular field over any other. We all have our code and we are helpless to resist its call. If there is a deeper, more fashionable answer than that, I am not aware of it. It has not come to me, and frankly, I do not think it matters. The music that I make is an end unto itself and if that is not satisfactory, then I believe, truly, that nothing is.