On Photorealist Guitarists, The Promises of Heaven and the Transaction of Authority.

I had two interesting experiences over the last week or so, which I had a similar response to. One was last week at my grandmother Daphne’s funeral. The other was yesterday while teaching a masterclass in Geneva. Both made me feel a little shocked, shocked that discourse had not moved on, shocked that I was plunged back into a pool of thought I had exited and that I assumed must have dried up in the meantime, like that feeling you get when you realise a city you visited twenty years ago, Chennai maybe, still exists and has continued to exist all along. Of course the feeling reveals our (or my) self centered view of experience. But hey, we’re (I’m) “only human.” (Or as Yuval Harare reminds us “we’re only human for now”).

The second experience was a discussion about classical guitar competitions. The students I was teaching were discussing some things we were experimenting with in relation to how the results would be received in a guitar competition. They were also sharing how their main experience of playing had been in competitions, and how their main focus of work was preparing for these competitions.

The thing that really struck me was when one young woman told me how there was an argument in the classical guitar world. I was delighted to hear this as I had assumed it had died completely, but an argument means there is at least a pulse! But the argument was about whether or not you represent a piece from another instrument as a new evocation of the original, or as an exact representation transformed onto another instrument.

This reminded me of my granny Daphne’s funeral eulogy by the Methodist priest that officiated. She was telling us that Daphne would go to a place set aside for her and only her in heaven, and that her body would be made new again, that a new Daphne would enter heaven and join other people who had passed from this “broken life” into Jesus’ kingdom. I was rather taken aback that this fairy story was still doing the rounds. I mean I knew people were still into the Bible story and resulting moral and ethical codes, but I was somehow surprised that the idea of heaven was still so literally adhered to.

I was similarly surprised that guitarists could still be having the same discussion about music, essentially discussing whether a performance needed to be photoreal or a new representation/evocation of a composer's work which could diverge radically from the original.

And of course it all comes down to authority. And the main focus of our six hour lecture and masterclass yesterday had been to shift the authority of the musician, and place it somewhere else. Not with the score, not with the composer, not with the teacher, but in the interaction between the body and the instrument.

Because, of course, the photorealists forget that these authorities will not come down and congratulate us, or save a space for us in heaven because we adhered completely to every mark on their score. Because if we adhere to the will of an authority, an external authority, we must be rewarded, because we’re human animals and we do nothing for nothing. If we’re going to listen to Jesus he had better reserve us a place in heaven, and if we’re going to listen to our teacher or the person judging our guitar competition then they had better reward us and make the subjugation of our inner desires and talent and inspiration worthwhile.

So yes, if we are playing and working to connect with some collective social group that will reward us, then yes perhaps it is worth being a photorealist interpreter and trying to impress the judges above all. But if we are truly interested in music and what music can be and could be and wants to be, then perhaps we need to take a different road that asks for nothing in return except the music itself.

Derek Gripper