I sat down to write a program note. I typed the name of each piece into a Safari tab. I stopped on the last tab when there were no more to open.
The first result was a recording of a passacaglia by a violinist I had gone to music camp with twenty years ago. I had followed the violinist's career on Facebook, noting with interest that they had become something of a Baroque music specialist.
I had never clicked on a single recording they had posted. Why? Was I envious? Uncaring? Probably neither, but I certainly didn't care enough to click.
Why, then, did I suddenly want to hear their passacaglia? Was it because I was finally independently interested in a piece that they had happened to record and the personal connection was enough to entice me?
Or was it reflective of a more general headspace when writing the program note?
Perhaps the interest in the passacaglia had nothing to do with an interest in their playing, but rather the interest in both their playing and the program note reflected a more open frame of mind (as opposed to the assumedly closed frame of mind I had been in when chancing upon their recordings previously).
Before we embark on the depressing thought spiral about Facebook and closed frames of mind, here's another question:
Why was I sitting down to write a program note on a piece I barely knew?
James Tate wrote, "God! This town is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there's mystery and wonder. And I'm just a child playing cops and robbers." Perhaps our information age is something like a fairy tale filled with mystery and wonder. We can find anything we want online and style ourselves an expert, but isn't it all just a gingerbread house of ideas? Still, I can't see anyone ending up like Hansel and Gretel for engaging in plagiarism.
What interests me is that we have no word for the next best thing (to plagiarism). In other words, what does it really mean to try to cram information in a few hours only for the purpose of teaching it to other people? College professors, who hate plagiarism, engage in this kind of intellectual cram-work all the time when asked to jump in on a new course.
In their defense, are ideas any less valid when unbacked by deeper understanding? Perhaps the ideas become more valid in themselves because they're untarnished by subjectivity. Whatever change they undergo in transmission is unwitting, like a virus adapting to a new host. Perhaps, like a virus, these changes make the ideas more memorable, easier to replicate, more transmissible, more able to traverse the path of least resistance. What is lacking in depth is precisely makes the ideas more compelling.
Of course, like a virus, these sorts of ideas might still be terrible for us, but what about from the point of view of the idea?
Recently I sat down to put an arrangement together with a percussionist working from a limited instrumental setup. Someone handed them an Irish bodhrán, asking, "Can you play this thing."
They responded, "Wikihow."