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The Nay-Sayers

They sit, protectively cushioned from the world, in the magisterial splendor of their condescension. No limelight for them. They need not face the daily scrutiny of more or less hostile examiners or publics. They write no madrigals or monodies; make no marks as virtuoso performers; do not, as teachers, enlighten or inspire. Critical of all, they find no employment on newspapers or magazines as staff critics. They are the nay-sayers.

As children, we observe our growing world and mirror it in our fantasies. It is not until some later stage in our development that we begin to fathom standards and to develop (ever so slowly) a critical apparatus. That's when, for some, the trouble begins. While the fortunate few find, as youngsters, areas which fascinate and compel them; and the vast majority seek and search for something meaningful to their lives, the nay-sayers begin to make names for themselves as "connoisseurs." They translate the energies and achievements of their contemporaries — and sometimes of history itself — into data to be weighed and filed. In weighing or assessing works and events, these budding experts quickly learn to level all experience to near-equal heights. In that way, sense of accomplishment is reduced and the would-be critics' insightful perspicacity enhanced.

The people here described are not particularly potent as either producers or consumers of the arts. They espouse no political or artistic causes or viewpoints, rather more often refusing all semblance of personal involvement or commitment. Their only claim to public notice is as carriers of contagion, as the arts' Typhoid Marys. By the time they are adults, these gadflies are frequently armed with well-developed verbal skills and a fine feel for irony or barbed skepticism. Since their ultimate aim is to discredit, they will often use such irrelevant or unfair yardsticks as "So, how much is he going to earn from that poem?" or "Well, you know that he has his position because his family is so rich."

But the nay-sayers' arsenal is greater than the gambit of fabricating financial equations. Make 'em laugh, they say. Make 'em giggle. In diminishing an object's stature, you simultaneously increase the diminisher's. And if you intimidate people enough, stop them from ever developing passions, you won't even have to bother ridiculing them later on.

Who are the most vulnerable to being proselytized and converted to the ranks of the mockers? The disgruntled, the unemployables, the mediocre. How tempting to take the pressure off one's own self-image by brilliantly besmirching others'! Most regrettable of all, the naysayers' natural recruits are the impressionable young, so eager to be recognized among the informed, the experts and authorities, the cool initiates; so anxious to avoid being thought of (branded) as gullible and immature.

We must beware of robbers of enthusiasms. The joy they rob may be our own. Those who truly love music and who have had their lives permanently ennobled by it must not fall prey to cynicism or to the slings and arrows of music's detractors. In his opening remarks to the summer of 1983 at Tanglewood, Gunther Schuller reminded students that their tenure was "not just another gig crammed into a crowded summer schedule. On the contrary: Tanglewood may well be remembered by you in future years as the place where the gigging stopped for one long blissful last moment, and where the ideals of making music as an art, and listening to music, can be pursued in a way that is at the same time combined with solid, highest-level, practical training."

It was sound advice. For we — young and not so young alike — must seize enthusiasm where it can be found, and nurture and protect it. It is the conveyor of our love and spirit, and the pathway to beauty. Let no one diminish the best in us and in our world, neither the merchants nor the mendicants, neither the skeptics nor the nay-sayers.

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