On Nurturing Long-Term Understanding

Mary Pipher:

“All of us are community educators, whether we know it or not. With our every word and action, we have the power to help or to harm the world. The simplest and smallest things can sometimes be of great import. We can be a community educator every time we pick up litter on city streets, wear a T-shirt with a hopeful message, use our Facebook to share worthy information, plant flowers in empty urban spaces, or praise someone else for doing these things.

“These actions may or may not make a difference to the fate of the earth over the long journey. But without question, they will make a difference in us and our communities and the quality of our lives.”

(The Green Boat, p. 140)

One of the unacknowledged casualties of our corporatized media system is the degree to which many of us have surrendered our roles as educators, abdicated our responsibilities to the collectivity of which we are a part. When we allow television to set our priorities, we adopt a value system which corresponds with that of TV culture: ephemeral, fleeting, distracted, sensationalist.

And when we value the fleeting and sensationalist over the long-lived and profound, we train ourselves and one another to ignore the things which really matter.

Music is more than a sonic art form; it is the medium through which our culture conveys its idiomatic understanding of time. A song is performed, remembered, and taught — not just as a sequence of events and actions, but as a gestalt, as a single experience, ineffable, irreducible. And within a song or a composition, there are multiple experiences of time, from the fleeting frisson of a melodic ornament to the gradual unveiling of a long formal structure.

Different forms of music tell us different things about how their parent cultures parse time’s flow. At the very deepest level the continuity of musical styles over millennia offers us clues to our origins and to the migrations of different ethnicities over the span of human evolution (for example, read this), while the surface level shifts with each new fashion, the deeper we go, the slower we change.

The modern culture of “hit-making” skews our perception of music toward the sensational, the short-lived — thereby contributing to the same civilizational short-sightedness that makes it seem logical and reasonable to burn millions of years of fossilized carbon every year — in order to package our disposable junk in further layers of disposable junk.

What do we need? Patience!

When do we need it? Yesterday!

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