by Tony Scaltz
I’ve been playing a lot of this video game entitled No Man’s Sky. Essentially, the objective of this game is to reach the center of an seemingly infinite universe, one that teems with landscapes, creatures, and alien artifacts that can, at times, go beyond the play experiences gamers can normally imagine.
That was how this game was sold to me, and as a massive fan of console titles over the years I reeled from the ecstasy of such promises. I have to admit that I became hooked on it almost immediately and drew into deep reservoirs of wonder at the sights all around my character, both on planets and in deep space. Yet over time, I committed the gravest of sins by any gamer: I ignored the meditative joy of the experience for my nagging critique over the need for a “goal” to reach. For days, this shift away from pure discovery of the immediate to the search for the next thing to do took the wind out of my starship’s sails and left me with a general sense of disappointment I had not felt in a game for quite some time. But, like all moments when my mind wakes up from the slog of ignorance, I realized that the point of the game is simply to experience the play, to listen to the ways in which background rains place me in an alien environment, to feel what it’s like to have your bones shake upon entering a planetary atmosphere, to feel and hear the crunch of rock under your boots….in essence to let the game be. Once I allowed myself to become present in the game, everything changed: discovery was the objective, not just the elation of new sights and sounds, but a sense that with discovery there is a change in the participant.
I relay this experience to you because I feel that our musical pursuits operate in a very similar manner. For years, I rarely took enjoyment from the hours of theoretical study and technical practice on my chosen instrument. The grinding of my musical experiences was never a journey; it was strictly goal oriented. And, to be frank such an approach served me remarkably well in my formative playing years. I rose quickly to technical proficiency, played with professional groups and solo performers, won scholarships to some of the best music conservatories in the country, and proudly created three successful music schools. But the goal oriented mind set I cultivated over two decades produced a “player” that grew tired of the industry, weary of my artistry, and devoid of the joy that first captured me at a young age- that time of the innocent wonders of new experiences. Hence, at 8 years old I came into first contact with music, and while I knew nothing I loved everything; near my 40’s I knew much and loved less.
So the question is am I now stranded in a musical universe? The simple answer is absolutely yes, but I love that about my work now. If a new student asked me (as they always do) how long it takes to get good, I would have no other option but to tell them they are asking a dead question. Instead, I would sit that student down, look them straight in the eyes, and ask them why they came to me in the first place. I’d ask what it is about music that makes them feel alive, like getting out of bed in the morning with a purpose you can’t pin down but know is there. I’d tell them that the only purpose of music is to experience….and through the art of true listening discover the listener.
That is the game I would sell.