Friday, December 3, 2010

Musical Saw

     This afternoon I was looking for a quote on billboards by Hendrik Van Loon in the prologue of his book The Arts, published in 1937.  I ended up reading the entire prologue, taken in by his wit and style.  I could have given you any one of a dozen humorous or relevant quotes from the material I read, and have vowed (for the second time) to read the entire book.  But I laughed out loud at the idea of the musical saw, I knew the truth of it, and have been mulling it over all evening.  After speaking of good and bad art he writes,
     "Enters the word 'genius,' which has lost a great deal of its old meaning and which today in the hands of our critics, may describe anything from a Mozart sonata played recognizably on a musical saw to the products of a not overbright young woman of sixteen who has managed to fill several hundred pages of innocent wood pulp with far from innocent sentiments.
     I shall therefore stick to the definition of that word which I remember from my childhood days when we could count all our geniuses on the fingers of one hand.  It read as follows:
     Genius is perfection of technique, plus something else."
      Gone are the days when geniuses could be numbered.  Today we have an infinite number of them, "beyond" as Arden would say.  Then we qualify and make allowances until all of us are geniuses or could be if we only applied ourselves.
     In today's climate you can get in trouble quoting The Incredibles, "If everybody's special, then nobody's special."  (Or something like that.)  Someone is sure to take offense; haven't we been told everybody's special?  Who would have the audacity to suggest someone is not?
     I'll begin with myself.  I am not special.  Sure, Bryan loves me and I'm irreplaceable in the lives of my children.  But put me in a crowd, or on the stage of human history, and I'm nothing special at all.  I'm no genius either.  "Perfection of technique."  The very idea is foreign to my life, and I don't bring anything "else" to the table.  I am ordinary.  Super ordinary.
     You know what, that's okay.  I don't need to be a genius, famous, powerful, or important.  I don't need to shine at all. 
  "'But let him who boasts boast of this, that He understands and knows Me,  that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth for I delight in these things,' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 9:24)


  1. Thank you for that! It is so annoying how today any kid who noodles something on a computer music software is considered a genius, and the ones who do the labeling have no real knowledge of the subject (such as judges on TV shows such as 'America's Got Talent' who don't even have a music degree).
    Interesting that this problem was already around in 1937 - I thought it was only in our times...

    That said - I don't like how the writer belittled the musical saw. There are expert musical saw players. Take a look at this video of saw player Natalia Paruz:

  2. Truthfully, I didn't know people play the musical saw. Too funny. The kids and I watched. I'd like to be that talented Sixteen year old girls can also write good books, think Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.