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Personal and professional circumstances have imposed silence on these writings for some time. Important digression has created fermentation of thought and a test of existence in the meantime. It is time to again face the music. And in this, I would like to start with a return to the beginning. Such a return is integral to philosophical method. Despite its seeming slowness returning to the beginning advances us on the path towards truth. So, the question is initially: Why am I a musician? And since I will consider it as a philosophical question, my argument will not be talking about historical fermentation or personal digressions any further. The subject of this question will appear only through its subject matter.

“Why am I a musician?” is an existential question. It is not answered comprehensively with reference to psychological, cultural or -least of all- professional reasons. Being a musician implies that we adopt music as a way of being and identify with it as a way life. Why is this so? What might justify the thought that the human being is best qualified as a “homo musicus”?

The answer I want to propose is fairly simple: Music articulates and confronts us with the essence of existence, namely, consciousness in its intentionality or directedness and spirit in its freedom. Thus, being a musician is a most authentic form of existence. Such an existence is a performative accomplishment. Freedom and intentionality need to be achieved. Freedom is not readily available on a shelf, nor are we free because we are entitled. We need to work deliberately at freedom of spirit. We must pursue explicitly autonomy of consciousness. The alternative is a mindless pursuit of opportunity generating quiet desperation.

The important point now is that such work takes place as a search for meaning or within a process of interpretation. While there are other forms of activity and endeavour that human beings undertake to make sense and discover meaning, music in its most complex and developed forms seems the most comprehensive in this respect. Making and interpreting music embraces and integrates embodiment, feeling and spirituality, formal and structural thought, social interaction and historical enculturation. It unifies our existence and our faculties in all conceivable dimensions profoundly. It is this interpretative discovery of meaning that gives music its fundamental purpose.

Reflections on the purpose of music may otherwise easily encourage trivial convictions. The thought that music makes us better or improves humanity in general is one of these. While it sounds like a nice idea, a quick look at history should make us hesitate: Reinhard Heydrich, a principal architect of the holocaust, played violin with sensitivity and skill, we are told. His parents were professors for music at the Halle Conservatory in Germany. Many of history’s most abysmal characters - Hitler a case in point - were music lovers and by all reports musical. There were orchestras in the concentration camps who played for the entertainment of privileged guards and officers. Mussolini too played the violin. Music can be used to entertain and ornament all kind, including evil human existence. Music is used to whip up the frenzy of warriors, sideline reflection and advance seduction. Music separates us in tribal isolation and exited confrontation. Yet, music is also used to connect, to calm and to cultivate us. It seems that music is as ambivalent and as multivalent as the human being itself. Especially where music is treated as expedient to our moral or emotional life its ambivalence seems to come to the fore.

Be that as it may, the purpose of music cannot show itself adequately in its supposed moral value. Music has no such value in and for itself. This becomes clear already when we look at its ontology and the implications in relation to our conscious existence. Music exists because of a sustained effort and expert activity of consciousness to make - and listen to it. Music is “intentional”. Music is direction and directedness into the future, a formation of time and a consistent, and ongoing creation of temporal form. Only an ongoing process and life of human consciousness and the complementary listening process leads to the existence of musical form. The temporality and essential transitoriness of music implies that the power and performance of our consciousness is consistently challenged. Music never simply sounds unless there is a forming, meaning-seeking intentionality at work. Music requires consistently active imagination. This is why Hanslick refers to music as a „contemplation of the imagination“

The consequences of these demands are profound, especially if we consider that developments in our technological world seem to suggest that human intentionality is in itself a deterministic process that can be reduced to algorithmic, generative mechanisms. It is one of the essential features of music that it seems to contradict such a technological view of the human being. Music calls for genuine freedom of thought – thought is here understood in the widest sense as freedom of consciousness which encompasses feeling, structural thought, intuition and reflection, memory and anticipation and spontaneity. Music defies objectivity as it crosses the boundaries of “clock-time” and reveals to us the existence and experience of a Bergsonian duree.

To be sure, the denial of objectivity which is inherent in the ontology of music is easily forgotten in contexts where we increasingly commodify music and relate to it in the form of trade-able objects. However, the truth remains that music and all that fascinates us about it, is related to an original requirement for intentionality and ontological openness. The ontological features of music find their direct correlate in what we call ordinarily “freedom and autonomy of thought”. To be experienced as meaningful, music requires our exercise of free and autonomous consciousness. Such listening brings music to life in its authentic being. The alternative is a perception of music that reduces it to a mere acoustic stimulant or ornament reducing our experience of music to the level of expediency.

What, however does it mean to say that music requires interpretation and inspires us to search for meaning? We are used to thinking of musical interpretation as a complex technical process which largely involves performers. Is interpretative activity required from those who perform as well as from those who listen? If music is perceived in its metaphorical, intentional identity in the shared activity of consciousness or listening how does such listening discover meaning?

We can answer this if we look at the phenomenon of interpretation in the context of language initially. According to the thought of the German romantic philosopher Schleiermacher (“Hermeneutik und Kritik”), we need to make an effort to make sense - “misunderstanding occurs as a matter of default”. In the context of the interpretation of text, Schleiermacher refers to two dimensions: a literal or grammatical grasp (the meaning of the words and the sentences) and an intuitive, holistic understanding (Schleiermacher speaks of “divination”) which anticipates the possibility of understanding the literal and grammatical layer of meaning in the first instance. Simply put, we must have a sense, an intuition of meaning, before we can understand the words in their full and detailed meaning. Interpretation in this sense is an artistic activity which does not simply gather the meaning from a given text. Giveness and gathering presuppose that the text is ready and available for such, which is not the case. The text comes to life with the free activity of human consciousness in the realm of intuition just like a musical form. Interpretation and the search for meaning are always creative and open activities. A text or musical form is not subject to dogmatic determination at any time. This understanding of meaning implies a dynamic process generated by infinity and openness.

Schleiermacher’s view of interpretation lends itself easily to music. Apart from the fact it might perhaps give a good explanation why we still bother with the music of the past today, the interaction of an intuitive (“divination“) and a literal approach highlights that all relationship with music is ultimately artistic and essentially open. We are never finished with the mystery of music. We continue to wonder about - and search for its meaning. In listening to music, in composing and performing we pursue our artistic search for meaning – we pursue music as a riddle. If this pursuit is sincere and insistent, we can give essential meaning to our life, a meaning that is lost when we adopt a merely expedient attitude to music that aims at success, entertainment or gratification of instinct.

The psychologist Jordan Petersen reminds us how important such a difference is for our entire focus on life when he says (12 Rules for Life): “Expedience is the following of blind impulse. It’s short term-gain. It’s narrow and selfish. It lies to get its way. It takes nothing into account. It is immature and irresponsible. Meaning is its mature replacement. Meaning emerges when impulses are regulated, organised and unified. Meaning emerges from the interplay between the possibilities of the world and the value structure operating within that world. If the value structure is aimed at the betterment of Being, the meaning revealed will be life-sustaining. It will provide the antidote for chaos and suffering. It will make everything matter. It will make everything better.”

It is the search for meaning that sustains the musician in music and centres him as a human being. It distinguishes the musician from a mere performer who we recognise in tendencies for unequivocal pretence, ready solutions and manipulative disregard for truth. Once we understand that music triggers our desire and search for meaning there just seems no convincing alternative to being a musician.