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Notwithstanding that music is essentially wordless Plato suggests that musicians cannot accept a gap between words and deeds. He suggests that a true musician is precisely a person whose actions harmonise in reality with his expressions, intentions and aspirations. The Gorgias is a dialogue dedicated to the exploration of rhetoric and its contribution to truth. It features a paradigmatic clash between Socrates, the critical voice of reason, and Callicles, a representative of the mono-thetic view that action is self-sufficient. For Callicles active power is absolute. Outcomes justify means and might is right. Such a view remains stubbornly unconvinced by any dialectical arguments for truth which look for alignment of what we do with what we say. Instead Callicles affirms the supremacy of success and holds fast to political expediency in an essentially pragmatic world. What is said about such conduct remains to him irrelevant.

It is hard –if not impossible- to argue with anyone who is unwilling or unable to see the difference between reason and cunning, between truth and praxis. However, and as Socrates points out, an absolute commitment to Realpolitik (often accompanied by impunity for wrong done) diminishes internal harmony and ultimately imprisons the person or her community in a sustained discord. The implication is that unless we harmonise the articulation of truth with our actions externally we will experience debilitating dissonances internally. It is the internal dissonance which worries Socrates more than any external discord when he asserts: “And yet, I my very good sir, should rather choose to have my lyre or some chorus that I might provide for the public, out of tune and discordant, or to have any number of people disagreeing with me and contradicting me, than that I should have internal discord and contradiction in my own single self.” (Gorgias 482c)

A harmony between what they say and what they do seems central to individuals and organisations who aim for a flourishing existence. It appears that here musicians and the communities of musicians frequently fail spiralling seemingly towards a tribal chaos and a cacophonous discord. There is ample evidence that the dissonance between words and deeds that undermine musicians’ own interests and intentions are in fact created by musicians and their artistic imagination itself. Measures proposed to address this disorder tend to address the consciousness and conscience of the individual and her community. In particular they focus on standards of individual or collective behaviour. However, it is a question whether we are facing an ethical challenge or whether the matter has essentially intellectual roots and derives from confusion and ignorance. Socrates suggests the latter. This implies that any solution to this challenge may in principle be simple.

It is not too hard to see how intellectual confusion and ignorance are responsible for dissonance and why we must tackle and seek to confront it. Active confusion is the result of intellectual incontinence. The cleft between word and deed opens up because we say more than we can mean. At times this can be simply the function of babbling enthusiasm, at other times it shows a disorganized intellect at work. If we strive for intellectual discipline the cleft between word and deed closes. The measure needed here is clarity. Clarity includes attributes of distinctness, coherence, connectedness and consistency. In our perceptions clarity includes immediacy, simplicity even, recognition and identification. In our thinking clarity is identified by similar features and includes further association with meaning, significance, absence of perplexing contradiction, the presence of logical harmony and the absence of debilitating cognitive dissonance. These attributes are naturally only achieved if an individual displays a will to clarity. Such a will articulates itself in a capacity to search for clarification of our inevitable ignorance.

Advancing clarity leads to intellectual harmony which in turn leads to organisational harmony. If we focus on clarity we must subject our thinking to discipline and our actions to transparency. This overcomes cognitive dissonance. Fortunately, clarity and its benefits are familiar to musicians as clarity also plays a strong role in their experience: clarity of musical perception is guided by clear musical ideas and is concretely expressed in a clear articulation in sound. Tuning and balance are the relevant features of order here. Musical clarity is guided by inner hearing and directed listening. These are essentially reflective processes.

The process of active listening constitutes formal musical understanding and provides the consciousness of musician and listener equally with an experience of meaning. Without clarity a constituted meaning decays and becomes dysfunctional. A perception of musical meaning is essentially clear. Where clarity disappears musical understanding becomes confused, sense becomes nonsense and euphony becomes cacophony. While musicians are familiar with clarity in their realm of experience, their capacity to conceive clear forms of sound does not necessarily imply a capacity to actively conceive abstract, intellectual clarity, organisational clarity or indeed other forms of perceptual clarity to an equal degree. Nevertheless, if it applies to all levels of existence musicians will do well to transpose their familiar expectation of clarity into the abstract, intellectual realm.

Musicians know that the attainment of clarity requires deliberate practice. We also know that poor practice – worse than no practice – may lead to a decay of perception, to confusion and to ignorance. This suggests a need to wake up, practice our attention and sharpen our discernment. In reflecting about the existence of musicians and their communities it is time to explore dialectic divisions that may help to conceive the reality in which we musicians find ourselves. In particular we should look for authentically musical commitments that mould our habits and modes of thinking, shape our characteristics and determine our capacity to interact effectively with each other and with our world. We could think here of such dichotomies as action and reflection, pathos and logos, form and performance, past and future, will to power and will to truth and sounding semblance and silent significance. It is important to ask whether commitments that musicians must make in an aesthetic reality are productive in other contexts as well. Some dialectical divisions may alert us to dangers when applied to real world situations, others, however, may expose opportunities.

Behaviour matures on the basis of considered decisions. But such decisions rely on cognition. A harmony between word and deed is a function of understanding concepts and realities in their dialectic tension and synthesis. If we can clearly conceive such tensions and their sources any gap disappears or becomes synthesised as our words and our deeds follow our insight. Improvement of understanding and the promotion of clarity (provided it is sincerely sought) will lead to improved listening and may in fact offer the significant solution in bridging the gap.