Welcome, everyone, to the blog of William Brown Percussion! This very first post will be my corner of the word ‘sonder.’ That means a journey through the looking glass of my view on art, what I want to achieve in music, and why.
I want to acknowledge that we are all currently in the midst of a stressful pandemic, and it weighs on my mind as I’m sure it does yours. In the coming months I’m certain I will write about how this affected my livelihood and the impact it had on our industry. But for today, I don’t want to write about what is stressful, troublesome, or scary; I’d like to write about what I find beautiful.
About a year ago now, I was standing on the tip of The Rock of Gibraltar. It is, perhaps, my favorite place in the world. What a view! Gaze west into the depths of the Atlantic, turn North to see the rolling hills of Spain. To the East are the warm, inviting, turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, and, perhaps most amazingly, to the South you glimpse the rocky shores of Africa. The excuse to see this incredible view was a tour with the brilliant World Percussion Group, and it was not the only vista we encountered. We drove over the channels of Oporto, walked among the sculpted curves of England, and stared at the wide waters of the open sea as our ship cleaved the blue ether. This physical beauty was enhanced by night after night of dinner discussions on art, music, and philosophy. I began to really contemplate about what I should put my creative efforts towards.
A few months later, I married my beautiful wife Claire, and on our honeymoon we visited the deserts of the Western United States. We hiked into the Valley of Fire; its rocky embers glistening like a jewel amongst the subdued hills. We crept through the silence of the Mojave Desert, emerging from a forgotten lave tube to look upon ancient volcanoes. We finally clambered up to Dante’s view, which overlooks the desolation of Death Valley. Its salt flats shone in the light, like a silvery mirror weaving its way through the barren landscape, reflecting a harsh sun setting behind a fortress of rock.
In a few short months I had suddenly seen so much. I stored up these magnificent sights of creation and they began to constantly occupy my thoughts. How would I describe these majestic views, and what impact did they have on me? A few words came to mind.
Beautiful. Incredible. Awe-inspiring. Powerful.
Then came two interesting words.
Those words came with confidence, I had stumbled upon the realization that I was bettered by merely experiencing these vistas. Some part of my soul was fed by their beauty.
I found myself searching for that feeling, the feeling of seeing something so beautiful that I was a better man for having seen it. Where could I go to experience something like that, and where have I felt it before? One place leapt out at me. I thought about standing in the Vatican, gawking at St. Peter’s Basilica. Marble floors give way to powerful columns, surging upwards to support arches that push towards the sky, climbing higher into impossible domes, defying gravity, lingering among the clouds. Every surface webbed with gold, every stone carved with precision, every arch more ornate than the last. It was jaw-dropping. It felt the same as gazing upon the strength of a mountain, but with the detail and beauty of a single leaf. This man-made place felt the same to me as the natural beauties I’ve previously described. I searched further, is it only visual sights that nourish me in that way? No, I also feel the same when I listen to certain pieces of music. A few come to mind instantly: Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Debussy’s La Mer, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Music so pure that listening to it is like watching the sunset. Each time the same, but unique. Never diminishing in quality, ever beautiful, ever nourishing to my soul. In the first movement of La Mer, when the cellos surge forward like whales breaching the surface, my heart leaps along with them and feels happier for having done so.
It became clear to me that I if I felt so strongly about certain music, I needed to curate that elusive quality and share it with others. Indeed, I mention these vistas and pieces not to be prideful of my own travels or musical taste, but to establish that those things are an indelible part of who I am. I worry often that this is bordering on an esoteric indulgence of my own personal taste, but to me the fact that I feel so deeply about these experiences and this music is proof enough that I need to share it. It is incredible, revelatory, that music is powerful enough to simulate the thrill of looking out at glorious creation. It means that I can use my gift for music to give others the gift of travel. I can take audiences to places that they can’t go, show them mountains, oceans, and deserts by finding music that puts them there. I have a responsibility to whomever stumbles across my art to impart something edifying, to give them some sort of nourishment before they continue on their way.
You may be asking, “what is this concept of beauty you are talking about? How can you quantify it, what gives you the authority to assign it?” (at the very least, I often ask that of myself.)
On authority, I only have dominion over myself, I don’t seek to limit anyone else’s definitions of beauty. But I have a hope of stumbling upon things that are somehow universally valuable.
On the concept, I don’t know! Adjectives like pure, edifying, pastoral, and nourishing have all passed through my mind, but I don’t really know how to describe that beauty.
But even if I can’t pin it down, if I don’t know what sights will have that particular effect on me, if I don’t know what sounds will move me, if I truly don’t know how to quantify that beauty, I do know this:
I am seeking it.