In today’s New York Times, Anthony Tomasini points out something that Heraclitus noticed some 2500 years ago – that you can’t step into the same river twice. Or was it once?

Music is a constantly evolving art form. Today’s cutting edge is tomorrow’s orthodoxy, and not very far behind us is a point in history where stuff stops being what’s new and starts being what’s old. As Ferris Bueller says, life moves pretty fast, and -isms won’t help you.

A failure to appreciate this aspect of the development of music is at least partly to blame for the belief that the end is constantly approaching. If you have a fixed idea of what music ought to look or sound like, then it’ll be a painful process to watch as the reality inevitably and relentlessly diverges from your ideal. You might as well try to hold back the tide* or live forever.

If you want to live on in generations to come, you have kids. You don’t just stick around until you’re really really old. If you want your music to be a part of tomorrow’s world, you embrace the nature of change. You write your symphony, you say your piece. You write about what made something great, not about how everything sucks today. You jump in and become a part of the river because that’s something you can do, and you understand that you can’t control what the next generation does once they’ve picked up your torch and run with it.

Miles Davis probably wasn’t thrilled that he accidentally invented smooth jazz, any more than Einstein was pleased with the atom bomb, but that’s the nature of progress. We stumble into the future knowing that only history will separate the good ideas from the bad.

* so when I refer to a prominent critic as a total Cnut, please understand that it isn’t a typo.


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