Last month, Wynton Marsalis gave the 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I strongly urge you to watch it in its entirety when you have the time. I found it to be inspiring, informative, and deeply moving.
Marsalis takes us through the history of American music forms, while examining the parallel development of the American concept of freedom. He begins by discussing the Founders – particularly Benjamin Franklin, who strongly believed that the arts are a vital part of a free society. (It was interesting to learn that Franklin established generous endowments to the arts which are still in place today.) Marsalis’ remarks are interspersed throughout the lecture with various musical interludes that he uses to illustrate his points.
One touching moment in the lecture occurs when Marsalis is recounting all of the different kinds of places he’s performed, all over the United States. Right in the middle of this, he is suddenly overcome with emotion and is unable to speak for several moments. Later, while the audience is applauding one of his musical demonstrations, he leans over to one of his sidemen to explain his emotional reaction by saying that he was just thinking about all those gigs. What a wonderful moment!
My favorite quote from the lecture is this:
“If an artist sings deeply enough, they take you to the frontiers of your soul. And that frontier is freedom. Freedom to feel…to feel the sensual nature of the ‘is’ and the ‘is-ness’ of things. The ‘This is what I feel’ and ‘You know you feel it too.’”
I encourage you to wrap your brain around that and see where it takes you.