One of the most challenging pieces of music is John Cage’s 4’33’’. It premiered in 1952 at a small concert hall in Woodstock, New York. Unlike anything he had ever played before, David Tudor walked across the stage, sat down at the piano, opened the score (which directed him with the Latin, tacet—or “silence”), and followed it perfectly: he touched not a single key for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. He then left the stage.
One of the most haunting pieces of music is Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground. It’s an old blues recording from 1927 and he doesn’t sing a word, choosing instead to hum to the slow pace of his guitar. It’s lonely and sad—exactly what he intended—fitting for a man whose life started anonymously and finished quite tragically.
One of the most delightful pieces of music is Duke Ellington’s Jeep’s Blues. And when you hear the jazz ensemble working playfully together, its rhythm and volume altering nicely throughout, you get to the end and feel like standing and clapping. And as you do, you might think, maybe—just maybe—Ellington was right when he said: “There is no art without intention.”
What does art—in this case, music—teach us about purpose? Using these examples, five things come to mind:
Music is often instructive, and it certainly is here. Perhaps, then, it’s fitting to close with one of Beethoven’s intentions, one that also applies to art and life alike: “To play without passion is inexcusable!”
Want to practice intention this year? Come to our Intentions & Habit Building Workshop on January 20th!
Joe Stephens is the creator of little hunches, an incubator of creative thought and a place where ideas collide and connect. A firm advocate of restlessness, he’s also an entrepreneur, a lawyer, and an Ironman triathlete working on his first book.
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