Part of this bounty comes from a strange economic phenomenon: when supply becomes so available that financial value plunges to irrelevancy, aesthetics and beauty become the coin of the realm. When work doesn't bring in revenue, pleasure in simply making it becomes the ultimate reward.
It's like that in all things. Why do poets endure? Painters rarely stain a canvas these days to put food on the table. Acts of creation explain themselves. Creation denies entropy. Creation imposes meaning and structure on forces working mightily to spin apart. Do we ever need excuses to embrace our lovers?
But what of music specifically? There's no way to hold it in your hand. The moment it's brought into being, it's gone. We all recall songs and tune snippets, but recollection is not the same as permanence and presence. Recordings preserve music, but in an essential, existential sense, music flees like time.
Music is the epitomized aesthetic of emotion. Its ability to organize and synchronize other senses affects us all, even if we hardly realize it. The ubiquity of music, from commercial jingles and cell phone ring tones to the person in the next cube who plays that maddening radio station all day makes it easy to dismiss and overlook.
I love listening to street musicians play next to subway station entrances. They might be asking for a few dollars (and they usually get something from me, no matter how I feel about their particular groove), but there's no way that the thousands of hours of practice time accumulated throughout their lives are worth the few bucks that speckle their instrument cases. They play music…because playing makes living worthwhile.
There are so many essential threads to pull here: are traditional, western instruments a dead-end in an electronic culture? In an era of grinding competition, does music have a cultural value if it can't sell a million downloads? Does anyone ever just listen anymore, or is music now just an art form to color the atmosphere of inveterate multi-taskers?
There's a lot to the subject. But as the great Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninov famously said, "Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music."
D.S. al coda.