Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Master of the universe

There's a huge difference between a mere musician and a music master. There are many musicians in the world (too many if you ask me). But masters are few and far between.

There are five ingredients one needs to become a master. First, she and the instrument must become one. There's no separation between two. The instrument thinks what the master thinks and the two operate as one unit. All her emotions are being carried out by her instrument. She is the music itself.

Second, there's no time for thinking. At the master stage, technique and skills become secondary. A master will not think what he's going to play. He simply plays. The mind he enters becomes a world of his own. In this world, he's free to create his own music because there's no limit for innovation.

Third, a master must truly capture the audience's heart. Performance and excitement level are the most important at this stage. One cannot play something so profound that no one can understand and agree with you. In other words, you cannot be boring. Yet, one needs to generate enough emotions that will strike a chord with the audience. In order to promote your art, there must be people who listen to you and support you. One cannot afford to lose one spectator. That's why in my opinion, people like John Cage, Philip Glass, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny are not masters because their music do not resonate with the audience.

Fourth, the master status is only attained through others. One cannot call herself a master. One can only be a master if she's being called by others, notably her peers, critics, people who have enough knowledge in the field, etc. One should not be proud if certian critics call her a "master," however. Critics, as we all know, are very opinionated people. Being called a master by one critic should not be a "be all end all." A true master will ignore what a critic says but embrace the opinions (even criticism) of those who truly appreciate his art. Self-proclaimed masters are indeed the "anti-masters" because they abuse the very essence of the word.

Finally, a true master will stand the test of time. Some music may sound good when it first came out, but it became a laughing stock years later, e.g. Donny Osmond. The true test is time. If someone's music is eternally acclaimed, then the master status is hard to destroy. But beware of the volatility of time. For example, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Barry Manilow were loved by the mass in the 70's, trashed by critics in the 80's, and embraced again today. Well, minds can be changed one more time before dinner.

Examples of masters are as follows (for illustration purpose):
Dr. Lonnie Smith is the master of the organ;
Toots Thielemans is the master of the chromatic harmonica;
Stevie Wonder is also the master of the chromatic harmonica;
Carlos Santana is the master of the guitar;
Oscar Peterson is the master of the jazz piano;
Ron Carter is the of the upright bass;
Max Roach is the master of the drums;
Bobby Bland is the master of soul blues ballads; and
James Brown is the master of soul music.

Now you know what I mean.

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