By Scott Rieker
Director, Emerson Choir
Last month, I wrote about the experience of collaborative music-making’s being greater than the sum of its parts. In the month since, I have had the privilege of conducting two excellent special ensembles: a church festival choir in Iowa and the choir for my first doctoral recital. In both of these instances, musicians with varying levels of experience and training worked together to create exceptional musical experiences. By the time I write my next column, the people of our great nation will have chosen our next government. These are not disconnected ideas; they are united by the idea of the common good.
At my more philosophical moments, I tend to think of music as the artistic embodiment of “common good.” One definition of the common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” First, consider the “sum of conditions.” This means systems are important, not merely unrelated components. Next, there is “social life.” In systems of social life, everyone is interconnected and interdependent; people are able to contribute their individual gifts while their deficiencies are balanced by the gifts of others. In systems, common effort and shared sacrifice lead to success. Then, the definition speaks of “social groups and their individual members.” This is different than the trope of “the good of the whole surpasses the good of the individual.” When the common good is legitimately sought, both the group and the individual benefit. Subsequently, consider “thorough and ready access.” As with the “sum of conditions,” “thorough and ready access” speaks to the importance of systems and broad-based collaborations. It also means that disconnected or sporadic measures are not sufficient. Finally, consider “their own fulfillment.” The goal of the common good is nothing less than realization of our individual and common humanity.
Applied to democracy, the implications seem clear (though they often become political footballs). In the artistic realm, there are also clear implications. First, we must have systems to undergird our success: regular rehearsals, trained and compensated staff, budgetary support, supportive congregation (all of which Emerson provides). Next, by its nature, a choral ensemble allows the gifts of individual members to mitigate the weaknesses of others. This, then, translates into benefits for the ensemble (good performances, rewarding musical experiences, uplifting service to others) and benefits for the individual (camaraderie, health benefits, vocal development, self-confidence). Subsequently, for it to be beneficial to all involved, the choir is open to everyone. Finally, the artistic and personal fulfillment offered through music is unique and different from any other human endeavor. It builds up our human nature and unites us in community.
In short: Vote. Sing. Make the world better.