Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

The Pianists: A Parable

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Over the past 12 1/2 years, the one weekly piece I've gotten the greatest number of positive comments about had nothing to do with politics.  Rather, it was a parable I originally made up off the top of my head and eventually - after many "tellings" -  committed to writing.  And so, after many years, "The Pianists: A Parable" makes a return engagement.  Its underlying "message" or "lesson" will likely be different for different people; that's just in the nature of parables.  And so, without further ado, let's venture off into parable land . . .

   (Note: The following was discovered on a papyrus scroll in a cave. Due to its extreme age, estimated at not less than 3,800 years, there were many gaps (or lacunae) which made the text difficult to render . . . )

Once upon a time long ago, a group of weary wanderers received a Divine Commandment from on high. It forever changed their lives. The resonating basso voice of the Nameless Muse said: “Thou has been chosen for greatness. Hear now this commandment which I command thee this day: Thou shalt become Piano Players and lovers of music. Throughout all thy generations, thou shalt diligently teach thy children to study and to practice, to play and to love, the music of the Piano. For Piano is thy life and the length of thy days. It shall add glory, meaning and contentment to thy lives. Piano shall fulfill thy souls. I am thy Muse.”

To facilitate their lives, Co* [This pronoun means "he/she"] gave them a manuscript with explicit step-by-step instructions on how to build a proper piano. To further guide them along their path, the Muse also provided the Piano Players (or “Pianists”) with The Holy Score, which contained Sonatas, Fantasies, and Concertos, Partitas, Trios and Quartets. Needless to say, those hearing the Muse’s Divine Directive were moved beyond compare; slowly they began seeking the means by which to fulfill Co’s awesome decree. This they did throughout their generations, as they continued wandering the wilderness, ever searching for their place in the sun.

 After many years of meandering, the nascent Pianists did find a permanent home in a land they called “Pastoral.” Once settled, they began devoting their lives to Piano and its attendant joys. Over many generations, they became renowned for the skill and artistry, the dedication and single-mindedness with which they fulfilled their Prime Command. They endlessly studied the Holy Score, adding variations and brilliantly original compositions of their own. They were a happy people living happy, creative lives. But there were dark clouds on the horizon. . .

Other peoples and cultures (whom they simply referred to as “Outsiders”) mocked them and scorned them. To the Outsiders, they seemed so different. And in a very real sense, they were. For owing to the extreme discipline required in order to become players of Piano and lovers of music, the Pianists generally lived apart from all others. They even developed their own language with which to speak amongst themselves; they called it “P’santayr.” Not having been witness to the original Command on High, the Outsiders could not understand the commitment and devotion with which the Pianists lived their lives. They kept strange hours and seemed to do nothing but practice, practice, practice. They played pieces from the Holy Score religiously three times each day. And one day in seven they rested, doing nothing but attending the Odeon – their place of musical devotion. They dressed alike and all ate high protein diets. They rarely participated in activities that the Outsiders considered "normal," "necessary" or “important.” How, the Outsider’s wondered, could any people devote so much of their lives to something so frivolous and nonproductive as Piano playing and music?

Because of their uniqueness, they were often persecuted. In fact, many Outsider cultures tried to eliminate them. Many believed that the Piano Players were a powerful, monolithic people bent upon taking over the entire world and forcing all others to be like them. Strangely though,  many others found in the Piano Players an inherent weakness; one which made them easily susceptible to the will of the devil. Against all reason, the Outsiders became convinced that the Piano Players believed themselves to be better than everyone else, although this certainly was not the case. True, the Muse had long ago informed the Pianists that they were Co’s “Chosen People.” But that did not make them better – only chosen. But Chosen for what? Why, to be Players of Piano and devotees of music – not an easy task when you think about it. No, they were not better, but they were different and unique. Unfortunately, many people could not (and still cannot) understand that people who are “different” or “unique” need not be feared.

After generations of living extraordinary lives in Pastorale, the Pianists were conquered by Outsiders and forced to leave their homeland. Before long, they were dispersed to the four corners of the earth. As the generations came and went, the Piano Players contributed greatly to the countries and cultures in which they found themselves living. Nonetheless, they continued to be persecuted and scorned for their uniqueness. To the Outsider way of thinking, they just didn’t fit in. Nonetheless, they did continue to provide both themselves and the entire world with sonatas, concertos and symphonies of dazzling brilliance and profundity. They created a body of musical literature that covered virtually every emotional aspect of life. No matter where they found themselves in the wide, wide world, they continued to study, to play, and to luxuriate in the heavenly music they had been commanded to create. It gave their lives meaning and purpose, just as the Muse had predicted. And, despite the fact that they were grossly misunderstood and even harmed, music continued to be the central focus of their lives – the driving force that kept them together as a people.

After 2,000 or more years, the Pianists lived in almost every country in the world. Never vast in number, they were nonetheless believed by the Outsiders to be an enormous monolithic congregation. In a sense, one can readily understand how the Outsiders might reach this unwarranted conclusion. Because of their unique culture and common purpose, the Pianists felt themselves to be a single family. Theirs was a singular global connection. Since all Piano Players adhered to roughly the same daily ritual of practice and study, they understood each other’s lifestyles, needs and expectations. And since they all spoke “P’santayr,” they could communicate with one another whenever the need arose.

For countless generations, Pianists would only marry amongst themselves. This they felt to be their sacred obligation. Whenever or wherever a community of Pianists might suffer, their fellows could always be counted on to come to their aid. Additionally, when finally permitted to enter mainstream professions – law, medicine, banking and academics – the Pianists tended to become rather successful. This was due in great part to the tremendous discipline and love of learning that had been instilled in them throughout all their generations. Simply stated, they approached each and every challenge as if it were part of the Holy Score. The Outsiders – perhaps through jealousy, envy, or sheer ignorance – had a tendency to look upon their success as positive proof that the Pianists were international conspirators – evil people bent upon taking over the entire world. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

With the arrival of modern times, many strange things began to occur among the Piano Players. They found the pull of Outsider society to be increasingly strong and alluring. The time they devoted to playing Piano and studying music became less and less. While most considered themselves devoted Pianists in the cultural sense, many turned away from age-old forms of study and practice. They no longer trained their children for a lifetime of practice,  playing and love of music. Why? Many said that they were deeply concerned lest their children feel “odd” or “strange” around their Outsider neighbors. No longer did they play Piano three times a day, as had their ancestors. Rarely did they attend the Odeon on the Seventh Day. No longer did they steep their children in the musical culture of their grandfathers and grandmothers.

Rather, now they began sending them to twice-weekly lessons for three or four years in order to learn to play but a single piece of Piano music – and largely by rote at that. The parents rarely, if ever, took their children to the Odeon on the Seventh Day. In far too many homes, the children were unable to practice, for the parents did not even have a Piano.  Far too frequently, the message these Pianist children received was: “Piano must be important to you for the next several years.”

“Why?” their children would ask.

“Because we say so,” the parents would answer.

Often they would add: “However, if after you have completed your lessons, you do not wish to continue, that will be your decision.” The children questioned why something that should be important to them was rarely seen or heard within their own homes. It was a very good question, a very good question indeed.

It eventually became the custom that at the age of thirteen, each child would play his or her single piece of music at a glorious recital that would be attended by family and friends. Plans for the recital (and the banquet which would invariably follow) began years before the child knew how to locate Middle C, or had ever heard of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. The day of the recital was filled with tension and anxiety, lest the child not “perform” up to capacity. It became increasingly obvious that many of those who attended these recitals did not have the slightest idea of how to act or what to expect. They had become, in short, a musically illiterate folk.

Many of those in attendance would recalled their own recitals, and realized that it was really the last time they had ever played Piano, attended the Odeon, or devoted themselves to music. Some would remember their parents and grandparents, and how they devoted their lives to the pursuit of Piano and music. But these children – the ones who played the single recital piece – were different. Despite the fact that they might play their single piece with ability and skill, they were, for the most part, incapable of reading the musical score or recognizing its emotive worth. Moreover, few, if any, had the true love of music, which the Muse had long ago commanded. True to form, few would ever play Piano after their recital. This new generation merely went through the motions without much feeling or understanding. What they did understand, was that after the recital, they would receive gifts of money. After the performance, the family would throw a magnificent banquet that would last until all hours of the night. Quite often these festivities cost far more than the family could truly afford.

The elders grew fearful. “How silly it is to spent all that time and money just to teach our children a single piece of music,” they said. “And for what? For the sake of a single recital and a great feast? It is a tragedy. Our children no long truly know how to play Piano, speak ‘P’santayr,” or have that great love and devotion to music which has always been our heritage. Where will it all end?”

 But the elders came to realize that they were, at least in part, to blame. They were the ones who took to speaking “P’santayr” only when they did not wish their children to understand. Then too, they were the ones who let the very culture of Piano slowly slip through their fingers, preferring instead the ways of their non-Pianist neighbors.

Fortunately, the elders, working in consonance with their children and grandchildren, came up with a solution that not only solved their growing problem, but actually caused a musical renaissance among the Pianists. In short, they . . .

(At this point, the manuscript suddenly ended, leaving posterity to ponder just what the solution was . . .)

©2009, 2017 Kurt F. Stone