Our Art: A Wonderful Friend, A Terrible Master

My brother, Walt Hampton, is a very talented musician and also a highly skilled music teacher.  In fact, if you have a child in public school, it may be that your child’s elementary music teacher uses one of Walt’s books on teaching marimba.  Perhaps the teacher has attended one of the workshops he conducts all over the country.  (I have, and it was great.) Check out this video of one of his Bahuru Marimba group.

MarimbaWalt is one of those creative artists who adapt their art to whatever opportunities arise.  When necessary (and it often is), he creates the opportunities himself.  He writes music for his students, teaches them to play marimba very well, and finds audiences for them—at street fairs, shopping malls, whatever.  He also writes for his rock band, and the band doesn’t wait for plum gigs.  They play at the State penitentiary.  The inmates love it.

I have learned a lot from Walt’s example over the years.  I have seen him make conscious decisions to be a generous artist when his circumstances would have led more naturally to frustration and cynicism.  He has demonstrated that instead of griping about being stuck in Lodi, you decide to like Lodi.  You adapt your music.  You remind yourself that music is more about joy than about attention.

Walt’s contentment as an artist is a deliberate choice.  In his music workshop that I attended, he commented, “Music is a wonderful friend but a terrible master.”  His statement, I believe, is both an encouragement and a warning to all of us in the arts:  we can enjoy what we do and look for ways—however humble and limited—to share it; or we can drive ourselves to despair by dwelling on rejection, criticism, lack of opportunity, lack of pay.  We can spend so much time “creating” that the wonderful creation called life passes us by . . . and we don’t know it until we look back in regret.

As a writer who comes too close to being driven, I remind myself often of Walt’s words.  Whatever gift I may have, I would rather it be a friend than a master.  Wouldn’t we all rather make friends with our art than be controlled by it?  It is up to each of us to define the relationship.

 

 

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