why music matters.

i finally read this speech last week, while i was hiding away from all things online, my phone still lost somewhere back in my kitchen in boston (i still haven’t found it, and i’m finding i don’t mind much).
my dad had emailed it to me and i’d glanced at it, saw it was long, and had been putting off reading it for a quieter time.
so one day, while neil’s amazing daughter maddy – who’s 14 going on 15  – was practicing violin in the kitchen by the window, i sat down at the table and read it. while i listened to her banging out her bach and scales with the early evening sun pounding through the windows, the words from this pounded me with their profound trueness and i started crying on page two and pretty much kept weeping til the end.
i want to share it with you.
if you don’t have a 14-year old violin player nearby, i suggest throwing on your favorite/saddest/most meaningful song while you read it. it’ll help. if you don’t have any idea what to throw on, just throw on mahler’s adagio for strings from the 5th symphony, that’s pretty much enough to get you going without any reading accompaniment AND it’s name-checked down below.
you could always borrow someone ELSE’S kid. someone else’s kid who plays violin would probably work better than someone else’s kid who plays tuba….though all music is actually equal.
but please don’t go kidnapping young children from the local conservatory. they will find this blog, blame me, and then i’ll get arrested and we’ll all be sad.

Why Music Matters
Karl Paulnack, Director, Music Division

The Boston Conservatory

Dr. Karl Paulnack’s Welcome Address to parents of incoming students, September 2004

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician… I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated… I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school.  She said, “You’re wasting your SAT scores!” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was.  And they loved music: they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite… Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

One of the first cultures to articulate how music really works were the ancient Greeks.  And this is going to fascinate you: the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us.  Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940 and imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose, and fortunate to have musician colleagues in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist. Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the Nazi camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture — why would anyone bother with music? And yet even from the concentration camps we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

In September of 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. On the morning of September 12, 2001 I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, on the very evening of September 11th, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang  “We Shall Overcome.” Lots of people sang “America the Beautiful.”  The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pastime. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece “Adagio for Strings.” If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie “Platoon,” a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

Very few of you have ever been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but with few exceptions there is some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment?  I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks. Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in a small Mid-western town a few years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier. Even in his 70’s it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium.  I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute cords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. The concert in the nursing home was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:  “If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at 2 AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

“You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

“Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music, I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”


i was very very happy to have the week offline. my brain feels better and so does my heart.kyle cassidy, my long-time friend and photographer, was out in the area for the last few days of my trip and took lots of beautiful beautiful photos.
this one is my perfect favorite:

it has everything a perfect picture needs: a horse (which is kind of like a pony), a warm day where no coats are needed, a very wise white dog and a man i love gazing wistfully into the unknown.  but mostly, it has perfect 1973 album cover potential. thank you kyle (and everyone send their congrats to him….he and trillion stars got married a few weeks ago).


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  • Muertecaramelo

    Hello Amanda.
    You might have just given me one of my thesis chapters. I need a teen violin player asap but for now, Im going to print this out in some recycled paper to read again and again.


    • Shadowstorm92

      Teen violin player at your service. (unless it involves travelling…because that’s expensive) :)

      • funkymonkey

        here’s another teen violin player ^_^
        if it’s research and questions and stuff you can mail me – shani.g16@gmail.com

  • http://mergyeugnau.livejournal.com/ Deborah

    Thank you for sharing this speech. I had seen it before & am glad to see it again. My heart fills with joy to see you & the man you love as happy as your are loved & admired by us all.

  • http://kestrelskeep.blogspot.com/ Fred

    Thank you.

  • http://brassycassy.deviantart.com BrassyCassy

    My song of choice: “When David Heard” Eric Whitacre

    Thank you for sharing, Amanda.

  • periculum

    That was painfully profound. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel like I understand myself better after having read that.


  • Rachael_Elizabeth

    Thank you for sharing that, Amanda. It really was beautiful – both the music and the speech.

  • http://calystarose.tumblr.com/ cirose

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • http://www.jenniferjwinn.com JennieJ


  • http://scarydan.tumblr.com scarydan

    I…I think you just posted an article I’m trying to write at the moment.

    And also you revealed why I love half of the EP I wrote/recorded/released and hate the other half.

    • Michael

      Wow…. I’d never thought about it like that.

      Music of choice – Half Day Closing by Portishead <3

  • cookieMUNGO

    The speech along with the music had me in tears too. I’m glad I read this. I missed crying simply because of the beauty of something. I hadn’t had that experience in a long time.

  • Andy

    the photo is perfect… when neil posted it on twitter, i loved it, and showed it to many. the symmetry at use is fantastic, and all the deeper when the viewer recognizes the two of you, without being foretold.

    and yes, the article is incredibly powerful. I’m an animator, and have zero musical ability (no really, trust me) but music relates so much with what i do, that its hard not to feel those words talking to me. or any artist who takes themselves seriously. ive been through similar doubtful times in my work. a great man, Ed Hooks, an acting coach, taught me that not only is what i do important, but that its absolutely necessary for survival. Art in any form is how we pass on the stuff that really matters. morals and emotions arent learned from history books. they’re expressed and shared through people, from a bedtime story to an epic play. From nursery rhymes to operas. without it all humanity amounts to is a collection of dates commemorating many questionable actions.

  • http://anathesciencegirl.blogspot.com/ Ana Weaver

    My choir director read this to me last year, and I cried right there in class! I have asked her for a copy, and she never gave me one. I was just thinking about it last night, and considered searching online for it, so it’s ironic that you should post this. Thank you Amanda!

  • Joi

    That was amazing, thank you so much for sharing that speech, it brought tears to my eyes!

    And that picture is lovely :)


  • Laura

    That was one of the most beautiful, moving articles I’ve ever read. Thank you so much for sharing, AFP. I don’t often cry when reading, but I was very, very close.

    Also, love the picture. It’s nice to have you back on the Internet, though I know how cleansing a break from it can be.

  • Lily

    Thank you so much for posting this. This is a much needed confidence bump that I needed about going to arts school this fall.

  • Rory

    That was beautiful, thank you.
    If you’ve not seen it, I urge you to take 20 minutes and watch this wonderful video:


    • NikosGr

      thank you Amanda, and thank you Rory for the speech and the vid.you changed my day, and a big part of my life just found a more profound meaning!

  • Paige Hagemann

    woah, that was a good speech. If that moved you then you should check out this poem, its by Andrea Gibson who’s an amazing poet, its all about realising the value of art in society. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSyjhBjrqec

  • Brian

    Thanks for the inspiring blog Amanda

    • Brian

      I was in New York on 9/11 and when I did get home that night the first thing that I did was plug my guitar in and record the angriest thing I have ever made. I have always maintained that music is my therapy. It is no wonder that religious institutions fear music as much as they do, music actually has a chance of helping people. I cannot tell you how many times I was down, put on a Beatles record and was smiling and singing along. I am also happy to have had your music to make me smile in dark times. Thank you.

  • John Krauser

    Life without music would be nothing
    Loved the article.
    Hugs for you Amanda.

    Take care :)

  • Michelle

    Thank you for this. It’s beautiful. Back story, speech, picture, dedication, and you.


  • http://www.mcmatz.com/ mcmatz

    Great. While reading this, I dropped tears on Genevieve, my cat, sans any noise except the raindrops hitting the roof over me.
    Truth to the word and thanks for passing it on.
    And it is the most perfect photo… ever.

  • http://www.cherishrusstybrazil.blogspot.com/ Russty

    Thank you for posting this. I wept as I read it. I truly believe that music is often a band aid on my broken soul. Without music my life would not exist.

  • sarakbettie

    i know kyle! and i know jen! and i knew they got married, but i somehow didn’t put it together you knew him. which is weird. because i saw your floaty pictures. and i know kyle does these… ya. ok then.

  • andy

    Thank you for sharing this.
    Song of choice- Have to Drive demo.

  • given2fly

    This is definitely the most moving piece I’ve ever read about music.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • http://www.marblecomics.co.uk/webcomic.html Johnny

    Hey Amanda I read this alongside adagio just before I drift off…
    What you say makes sense but is sadly forgotten
    Your passion for art shines through always
    and your emotion and energy certainly trigger
    deep routed primal feelings within us all.

    thank you.

  • Anna

    Thank you for sharing that. What he says rings true, and I worry a bit how dependent on others we have become for our music. Would that we could all learn an instrument and keep music in our lives that way.

    I know that when I discovered your music, it cracked something open in my heart that had been sealed shut for a long time. It made me want to change and be more open. Some pieces inside moved. For that I am grateful.

  • Eriel

    thanks Amanda for posting this up.
    I really needed this.
    This has inspired me to keep singing on

  • trax

    It’s a beautiful, beautiful text, thanks for sharing it. I’m thinking of printing out a few copies to give out…

    ‘Sing’ was a good soundtrack to that, too.

    Thank you.

  • Diego

    Your words are just perfect.
    Music is something that we can’t touch, but it exists, as dreams.
    and we could not live without it, as air.

    keep cure us,


  • http://www.slk1282.typepad.com/ Stephanie


  • Brin

    That was beautiful. The part about the soldier really got me. I cried too.

    My song of choice: All That Could Have Been by Nine Inch Nails

  • Jeffrey Rossetto


    I believe the article you’ve posted (i.e. why music matters), is an excellent statement on the value and ability of music, concerning it’s basic purity and potentiality, as well as the ‘proof in the pudding’ universality of the importance to human life.

    As a person, music fan, and (especially) as a creative person I agree with Dr. Paulnack’s opinion.

    In fact, it’s been apparent to me, during the course of my own various experiences (as listener/creator/performer/fan) that music, be it either performed live or pre-recorded, is that of a confirmatory experience (on various personal, emotional, and spiritual levels) and an infinitely renewable energy source combined.

    I appreciate and encourage your passion to share this article with the world, as I feel that a possible point made by Dr. Paulnack is to illustrate an obvious, yet ironically hidden, fact about music:

    It is something that we are all a part of, as it is also a part of us all, just like the earth and our environment, in any case.

    Thank you,

    Jeffrey Rossetto

  • Flor

    Apologies, I didn’t put on any sad music (already had some super excellent Oingo Boingo playing), so instead reading this made me very, very, VERY happy (with a little bit of choked up-ness here and there, but it was a happy lump in my throat!).

    This. THIS! This is what art is! the hidden, ineffable connections. The communion! That’s what I hunger for every time I step into a theatre. That’s what I’m hoping to find when I sit down to a hyped up movie, pop in a favorite CD, from the times I go dancing with friends, to when I head to the art museum(s) what I’m looking for and why I keep going back is that the artist will reach into me and in so doing allow me to reach into him or her and come together, to heal, to see further than either one of us could see alone, to give definition to the things in this life that will not permit themselves vocalization.

    (And yay on the un-noted shoutouts to John Williams!)

    • Flor

      Also, definitely passing this along to all my friends with parents who ever disparaged their musical vocations.

  • elblooz

    Very good speech.
    It has a music of it’s own.

  • http://davidlevine.wordpress.com David_Levine

    Thank you for posting that amazing speech, and thanks for the Mahler link. God I needed that.

  • http://darmfield.com dawn m. armfield

    I’m so glad I came here today and read this. While I’m not a musician, I understand this. I left a good job to pursue my doctorate. My family asked why — why would you leave, why would you give up something good? I didn’t give up something good. I gave up something adequate to get something amazing. My love is in language. I love how words work, how people use them, and what they mean beyond what is written. I think, in so many ways, when something is designated as “art,” the value of it is forgotten. I work in a field that is considered “language arts” or the humanities. It’s really about people, about who and what we are, about how we express ourselves, and open ourselves to new experiences.

    I try to express this to others, to share my passion. I see eyes glaze over, and that’s ok. They don’t have to understand, but I can still share the beauty and wonder of it all with them.

    The photograph is one of the most joyous, loving ones I’ve seen in a long time. It makes my heart sing.

    Thank you for sharing all you have in this one entry.

    • http://maartendas.blogspot.com feeblemind

      Here’s one who wouldn’t glaze :) As a poet and a journalist, I know exactly what you mean. I was thinking, what is said here about music also applies to poetry and literature. At least that’s my experience as both a poet performing as someone listening to writers perform. Tears can come, goosebumps, deep stirrings, pictures before me etc. I love what you said about how art is ultimately about people.

  • Febronia

    My dearest Amanda,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m very happy to see that someone wrote a speech entirely on the ‘tech crew’ behind music. It makes me fully appreciate what you and other artists pull out of me. I don’t know how I would have phrased it (certainly not ‘invisible parts’) had you not shared it with me.

    Posting this on Facebook, for sure.

  • http://andrewmcmillen.com/ Andrew McMillen

    Thanks so much for sharing that, Amanda. It was a beautiful, moving read.

  • http://scarygirl.tumblr.com/ scarygirl

    Thanks so much for posting this article.

    I remember having a complete breakdown 6 years ago after hearing “Mad World” play on the TV. I was in a bad way, but didn’t know how to express it. I went through the daily motions like a zombie. When I heard that song it tore down whatever reservations I had, and the next thing I knew I was screaming.
    Not entirely a bad thing, that meltdown – I ended up getting rushed to an ER and being booked into a psychiatric facility the next week. Saved my life.

    And that photo would make for a killer album cover.

  • http://kilderok.deviantart.com/ H.E Sharp


    I cannot thank you enough for sharing this speech with me and the rest of the humanities that swarm the internet like some juicy plague in an infected sore. The speech moved me because it reminded me to take my crafts more seriously because Dr. Paulnack is right, arts and music is SO MUCH MORE than mere tomfoolery. Doesn’t mean we have to be absolutely stern and without humor at times in our work, when I’m feeling meaningless and worthless in the fact that I’m a professional artist and musician I will remember you, this fine doctor here, and The Greeks. I never equated my profound love of the universe and the mathmatics behind it quite so well with music as I have after reading this speech.

    Also, you know it might just work if you DID use this photo as an album cover? It would throw us all off in a good way if done right! Surely you must feel and see some connection and inspiration between what was said in this speech and the photo posted at the end of your entry…?


    Hannah “H.E” Sharp

  • http://www.lyzardly.blogspot.com lyzardly

    Today I found myself busy and listless. When the busy subsided I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied and it dawned on me… I had not heard any music all day. Not a single note. I thought “No wonder I feel out of sorts” and as went to remedy this I got your tweet linking this blog post.

    I am a student of literature and have just spent the past few days trying to write something to justify my receipt of much needed scholarship funds. Last night it coalesced into something about why stories are not a luxury, but a necessity for human survival.

    And now I send this to my sister who wants desperately to be both a musician and a surgeon. The same impulse drives both aspirations in her. Thank you for sharing this, now I can share it with her.

  • Julia

    Thank you.

  • cluttered

    Thanks for posting this. I was reminded of my grandpa who thankfully had survived that jump into the ocean but had a rather heartbreaking tale to tell about it…

    The first time I saw you in concert I cried. I guess I was surprised by this. I hadn’t been to a concert in ten years and it wasn’t exactly the whole, lets sit on the lawn and get stoned kind of concert… not that I expected that. I just wasn’t ready to be so filled with emotion. There was a moment during a rather intense piano pounding moment that the crowd opened up (me being rather short, was thankful) and you stared in my direction… The passion of the song, how I related to it and your stare brought me to tears. I wobbly stood, tears streaming down my face, not breathing in fear of loosing that moment that seemed to last longer than comfortable and was left feeling completely raw. Even after that moment I wanted so much to run but was so captivated by the power of the music that I stood my ground. So much surfaced that I was not ready for… and sometimes it still jumbles around inside this cluttered brain and confuses me… but I thank you for that moment.

  • http://twitter.com/jorgeborrani jorge borrani


    Yes, you made me cry.

    Thank you for this,


  • horseraddish

    You have the life we all dream of rock star! PS- Smoke some fucking drugs Y’all! Enjoy Life for christ sake! ………………..GAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am going to use the word “Please” Please? Oh! I would love to meet a doctor at one of Amanda Palmer’s Shows! That would destroy my perceptions of reality completely! BWahahahahah!!!!!

    ……………Kidnap children man. They’re bastards!!!! LOL!!! Oohhh k. No more beer.

    zLOL- Amanda Palmer – you have to deal with psycho paths! LOL!

  • theraputicchainofevents

    Heeeeyy, I’m a fourteen year old violin player!

    People reading this, don’t kidnap me.

    I don’t want Amanda to get arrested.

    Remember: ASK before you decide to do something rash.

  • The OFLP

    Dammit. I didn’t need to put any music on, because the song in my head switched to violin on its own. Always freaks me out when that happens.

    Movies without music? Hell, one of the most moving experiences I ever had was listening to the soundtrack album for a movie that wasn’t even out yet. (Geek.) Music for scenes I hadn’t seen. One recurring theme had me sobbing until the very end, when it made its last appearance and my eyes were dry. It was so intense I was afraid to watch the movie in public, but the tears never came back … whatever needed rearranging was done by the end of the album.

  • Jasmine Reynolds

    One song I was really moved by was Christina Aguilara’s song “Hurt”. It wasn’t even the song necessarily but the music video. It was supposed to be Christina’s character as this star who used to be really close to her father. They show little flashbacks of her as a child with her father and it makes me cry every time. my own father passed just a few years ago. I can talk about him, think about him, all that and not even tear up but if I even think of that song, I feel that lump in my throat (as I do now). I’m not a musician myself but I’ve felt that music had a very strange but understandable emotional and spiritual power over all of us. We, especially today, take that power for granted.

  • andea

    I appreciate you posting that. I will definitely pass it on. One of my favorite parts: “someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft”. I think these days that is what makes me fall in love with certain music and the artists performing the music..when I see a concert or listen to a record and I feel like THAT is what they are trying to give me. Something that will help me grow and heal me if i’m wounded. Music is the band-aid for the soul. (Band Aid, pun?)
    And that picture, yes, lovely.
    Maybe if you do decide to get yourself a new phone you should get limited minutes and text….unless you would just go over and pay the difference….then the incentive to use it less is gone, but still, it’s an idea. Welcome back.

    All my love,


  • Jacob Anderson


    You don’t really know me, but I burst out in tears while reading this, thanks so much for posting it.


  • http://www.myspace.com/trixygrace trixygrace

    this article is hereby being sent out to everyone i know (who may not discover it here, first). i could spill my guts and leave this comment all convoluted at the truths stated within the article, but there is one thing i’d like to share which recently happened to me, to remind me fully how powerful music is.

    a stranger had recently, randomly given me a boom box out of the kindness of his heart. i went on to tell him that my PC had recently crashed, where i had harbored all my music collections since i had to sell nearly all my CD’s over the winter to keep myself fed, had no stereo equipment except on my PC, and that his gift to me was very dear and profound. it so happens i had been working on this oil painting of you, and was so happy that i could at least scrounge through some old compilation cd’s for some background music – something i consider very essential to drawing and painting.
    upon flipping through my old, tattered cd booklet, i came across a thrashed/burned cd of an orchestra concert i had attended in los angeles four years ago when my life was in upheaval, otherwise very miserable and not tending to my artistic outlets. i thought “what the hell, i haven’t heard this in forever” and popped it in, hit play. three pieces in, and putting some of the finishing touches on my painting, it hit me. my soul was taken back to where i had been the night of the orchestra concert. there were things inside me rotting, festering and poisoning me that were released during that certain piece of music. the merging of emotions from then and now, where i had once been deprived of my outlet and then presently finding myself finishing the best painting of my life, was fucking profound. a friend of mine happened to be sitting nearby when this happened, and he started weeping at the fact that the song we were listening to made me weep. intense shit!

    well, if that isn’t the longest comment i’ve ever left….

    oh, your horseback riding adventure photos are so lovely! i totally get the early 70’s album cover vibe from it, kind of like:
    (funny, because this morning i sold a copy of this album to a customer and thought about your horse photos for a brief instant!)


  • Approximately

    Cried reading this.

  • Ariel

    that was beautiful. thank you!

  • Matt

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Three specific thank yous.

    1) The piece namechecked is actually Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, not Gustav Mahler’s. I’d never heard Mahler’s Adagio before. I’ve now heard a gorgeous piece of music I’d never heard before, which makes me extremely happy.

    2) I am a composer who, for various personal reasons, had recently lost his enthusiasm for writing music. On reading this article, I remembered precisely what it is I love about creating music: sending people stories and images directly to their hearts and moving them in a profound way that simply isn’t possible by any other means. I am now incredibly fired up to go and write music, and change the world (or at least, someone’s world) with it.

    3) I also feel compelled to redouble my efforts to learn the piano.

    My song of the moment: “Paris Through The Window”, by Edward Kleban. Go check it out.

  • JackCarson

    damn you for making me cry. but thank you for sharing this with you readers. now pass the tissues and kiss the nearest musician, be they professionals or people goofing around. thank you AFP

  • Agrajag

    I knew that. I really knew that. But sometimes you just need to hear something like that from someone else. It always matters.

  • http://strangeandsavage.wordpress.com Miiru

    I heard you perform _Sing_ at the Rock The Vote inauguration bash in DC, and it was one of the most powerful performances I’ve witnessed. Encapsulates the above truth nicely, I think. :)

  • http://twitter.com/ella144 ella144

    That was beautiful. I’ve never heard music explained so perfectly before. Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://stealframe.com/ Greg Rollins

    Thank you for this post. When my daughter broke the news to me that she would be majoring in Art, instead of pre-law, I wasn’t as devastated as I thought I would be. I told her I was proud of her decision because I’d always believed Art is the only medium that can truly change the world.

    I’ll be sending her a link to this post. I know it will move her as much as it moves me.

    Thank you again for this wonderful post.

  • http://armyoflarry.com/ armyoflarry

    I read it while listening to David Bowie’s “Outside”.

    Weeping was hard to avoid. Inspiration was easy to gain. I am so happy to be a musician, and I am glad that music choose me to create. I’m glad music chose you too Amanda!

  • Guest

    Great piece, thanks for reposting. To bring it into the popular, this syncs with a Sly Stone interview I watched on YouTube last night

    “I believe that if I could just get access to any enemy of hours, a couple of people from that country and us, and then we just get them together and we make music together – it would affect somehow. I know it would. It’s hard to get a man to want to kill somebody when you’re harmonizing with him.”

  • Becky

    That was lovely! It speaks to me as a writer as much as a music lover. Also, I’ve been craving access to a piano for the last month, and this makes me want more than ever to start playing again. Creating music, like listening to it, creates a space that’s like no other in my life.

    The photo is definitely amazing.

  • http://www.ifhar.com/ s. ifhar

    thank you amanda, such a gorgeous piece.

  • http://www.schmutzie.com/ schmutzie
  • http://www.ancathach.com/ GreenOfEye

    Amanda, I’ve republished this on my site (hope you don’t mind) as i wanted to spread the word.
    I feel it’s truly beautiful and eloquently sums up the power of music in a way i never could.


  • Genevieve

    Thank you so much for that.

    Speaking of music, I came across this song by John Wesley Harding. I don’t know if you know him (I didn’t until I got my daily dose of NPR music in my inbox a few days ago) but the song they link to reminded me a whole helluva lot of your struggle with your label, so I thought I’d pass it along:


  • Josephine

    I do not play a musical instrument (did learn at a very young age, but regretfully didn’t pursue it). But I do write stories. If there is anything I always think and want to share out loud, it is that I would want to thank the God that created music, because without music, I couldn’t write a single word.

  • http://writewiteintegrity.wordpress.com/ CJ

    I wanna start a 70’s juicy Cream-like band JUST so I can use that image as the album cover!

    Then we’ll all die tragically in an unlikely volcano accident in Kansas, and the mythology will be set it stone. My heirs for 10 generations will live off the enduring sales of that one album.

  • Stephanie

    That was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it <3

  • carpathianroses

    You know what song was constantly going through my head while reading this?


  • http://maartendas.blogspot.com feeblemind

    I read your blog and then went over to PostSecret to find… this:

  • kelsey


    i was wondering if you were planning to put the music to “dear old house…” in any songbook, or if you had it written out and could possibly share it online? i am in a similar situation, as far as the motives for the song go, and i wanted to cover the song for an event, but to do so i would need the tabs/notes for the ukulele part.


  • kat887

    My voice teacher gave this to me a few months ago, and I read it once a week to reassure myself that pursuing something that seems so endlessly impossible is actually worthwhile. I adore your humanity, Amanda (I hope you don’t find me presumptuous, using your first name and all), and your passion, and it is something that I aspire to and work toward every single day.

  • http://fingersandtoes.wordpress.com/ Sarah

    Ok, I totally didn’t think I was going to cry, but you were right.

  • Ryan_Anas

    What a beautiful article. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I love the idea of music being an inward astronomy. I’ve felt that way for a very long time, and loved the way Karl Paulnack fleshed out that idea and applied it here.

    I also agree that the picture is pretty damn perfect =)

    • http://www.blacktelephone.com/ Joseph Karr O’Connor

      This goes to the heart of what I’ve been telling school administrators for years in the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District where we have very excellent music programs for all kids… except those with disabilities:


      Until last Thursday night:


      • Ryan_Anas

        That is so awesome. I work with developmentally disables adults, and one of my clients was very nonverbal and prone to violent spells when I first started. He has come a very long way i the past year or so because many of us at the house have started showing him love rather than reacting with fear. But the reason I bring this up is because one of the main ways I’ve reached him is through music! We play drums together, and just the mention of it will make his face light up and he’ll start to pound his belly and we go through all the instruments together. The finally is a long yodeling session that leaves us both blue in the face. I bet this technology would have been perfect for him when he was in school. Thank you for sharing this.

  • http://www.blacktelephone.com/ Joseph Karr O’Connor

    This goes to the heart of what I’ve been telling school administrators for years in the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District where we have very excellent music programs for all kids… except those with disabilities:


    Until last Thursday night:


  • http://www.karisinkko.com kari_sinkko

    Travel makes the heart weary. Working long hours makes you go insane. Sleep is not for the weak, it’s for the looser. If time was as short as I know it will be, I’d take more time in being me.

  • http://barelyathread.blogspot.com/ Bridget

    This is about to be forwarded to every musician I know.

  • its me

    (first reaction on the Photo. sorry my english went away, together with my brain aarghh)
    OMFGoddess ich kriegn Kind! She’s riding! Amanda please merry me!
    I ride with you into the Sonnenuntergang. With 2 horses with long silky Mähnen bis zum Boden. With blue Glitterhuflack and hello kitty-skulls on their Hintern. And were singing, singing!! *ggg* *kreisch*

    *read the text when get the brain back ^^

  • tweet

    thank you for posting those words.

  • Kirsten

    Thank you. I put on “Balloon Feather Boat Tomato” by Jason Webley and had a good cry. Why does the truth make us cry, I wonder? I feel like a stringed instrument that has just been plucked – the truth resonates in exactly that way. I think Mr. Paulnack is on to something there.

    Thank you, thank you for sharing that.

    • Vicki

      this is an amazing piece of writing. i put on “a princess” by javier navarrete (pan’s labyrinth). by the time i finished reading, itunes had started the next song on the list – “hallelujah” by jeff buckley. it was simply a perfect moment.

  • http://gabrielgrub.blogspot.com/ June_Miller

    I finally managed to read all of this, this evening.

    100% understood, and agreed.

    It’s just so hard to put those emotions to notes. I have to tinker around for a bit, and sometimes I just play so many different notes that I forgot what the original thought, or sound, was, and lose it entirely. Fucking damnit. Eventually, it’ll just have to happen. And that kind of scares me. What if I have to be really fucked with to capture those notes perfectly, to memorize them and want to play them for people. What if I have to be really fucked with to hear the painfully beautiful melodies I want to come spilling out of me. I guess everyone’s scared of being hurt, in different ways. Life goes on, but pain can just be unbearable sometimes. Scary unbearable.

    Art–music–really is essential to survival.

    Beautiful things have always made me cry. I cried, once, in church when I was a kid, because I thought the music was so beautiful. I thought how the choir was singing, their harmonies, was beautiful, maybe even perfect. And I just started weeping. And my mom kind of shook me by the shoulders and asked what was wrong with me. I told her. She kind of rolled her eyes and told me to straighten up. In fact, thinking about it all even now gets me misty, still.

    Thank you for sharing this..

  • http://followingmybliss.wordpress.com/ Juliette Dominguez

    Amanda, thank you for sharing that with us — what a profound piece. As I’m surrounded by music (and music makers) it makes perfect sense! I wanted to share it also with my peeps — and have reposted it on my blog (http://followingmybliss.wordpress.com/2009/06/06/why-music-matters) — hope that’s cool with you.
    Peace, JD

  • Pouka

    Amanda, thank you. This couldn’t have come at a better time.
    My son is newly graduated and accepted to Lamont School of Music. I have struggled so long with what’s described here. He is a great student…high SAT’s, brilliant in math and me, a scientist, raising this wonderfully artistic child.
    This timely piece helped me to see what he was working toward all this time.
    Thank you, thank you a million times.

  • Mia

    As a kid getting a degree in theater, I often have to struggle to remind myself why I’m even attending school for a degree that sometimes seems so pointlessly difficult. This reminded me why and I can’t thank you enough for sharing it.

  • Ronald Pottol

    POW camps are not like concentration camps. POWs had everything she said they didn’t, the Red Cross inspected them, granted, by the end of the war the food situation in Germany was bad, and they lost weight, but I’ve never read of any mistreatment of western POWs German camps. How the Germans treated the Russian POWs were a very different matter.

    They had shows, commerce, mail from home, etc.

    • http://www.hackcraft.net/ Jon Hanna

      POW camps were certainly very different to concentration camps, and those holding POWs of some nationalities where different to those holding others (Russians were treated worse than Westerners as you say, the same goes for the Poles). For that matter concentration camps differed considerably, from each other and at different periods during the war – a concentration camp is strictly just a place where a large number of civilians are held (the Manzanar in California was a concentration camp where the Americans held Japanese and Japanese America civilians) that doesn’t entail mistreatment. Of course, it is hard today to hear the word and not immediately think of the horrors of the German concentration camps. Those camps like Auschwitz 2 where worse again and should more properly be called death camps or extermination camps, as mass murder was more actively pursued there.

      These comparisons in themselves become unspeakable though. We can say Auschwitz 2 was worse than Auschwitz 1 was worse than Stalag Luft IV (a POW camp where American, British and Canadian POWs where held where conditions where initially relatively good but they deteriorated to the level of atrocity, including the infamous “death march” when Germany prepared to retreat from the area). At the same time, the suffering of some in the “better” camps was so great that comparisons can never really get at the truth.

      That Messiaen was in relatively good conditions was a prerequisite of his being able to compose and perform at all, but this “relatively good” was not necessarily even as good as International Law demands a POW camp be. It is true also as the piece says that “even from the concentration camps we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art”. We also have work created afterwards by survivors, Nussbaum’s paintings created when he was in hiding. Half a century later, one thing this still manages to do is to pass by the mind-reeling algebra of comparing horrors to the fact that each of those suffering, no matter how great or lesser it may be in comparison, was a human, housing the creative impulse that is in all of us whether or not we have the particular talents and relative fortune needed to leave a legacy like Messiaen’s.

  • mélanie

    Thank you – I truly love you :P
    I cried too. And, my goodness, thank you.

  • Person

    I just feel blessed to be the 100th commenter
    thanks for being alive by the way..

  • KeithG

    Hey!!! I read your comments all the way to the end! I just don’t comment because I don’t think I have anything interesting to tell you.

    I have loved your blog since you referenced the “hack hack hack” Porcupines mating in the back of your throat. I will continue to read your blogs until you start twittering monosyllabic sounds of expression, then I’ll maybe check for a new post every other month instead of twice a week. Hurumph.

    Love you.

  • nazakyar

    dear amanda,

    I didn’t read the whole thing. I am sorry. it’s 2.36 am here in Istanbul and my eyes hurt because I’ve been working on my graduation project for days now. I cross-read it. I am shameless. and sorry. but this made me feel better. thank you. if you’re reading this. thank you. I don’t know why but I feel better now. photos tell me that you’ve been having a good time. it’s nice to know that someone, even someone in an entirely different part of this world, is having a great time. it means a lot to me. i wanna have a great time too. yes, I miss having great time. I need to survive this week and the next week. it’ll be allright then. good night/good morning, whereever you are and whenever this is.

  • anna

    Amanda, I do read your blogs, every one, every word, every time. I don’t reply because I often don’t know how to respond to your beautiful mind.

    • Person

      Same, same.

  • Jonathan Davies

    Came across your stuff searching for Leeds United as I’m a huge fan (of Leeds United). Just like to say I’m now a huge fan of Amanda fucking Palmer! Just bought the album on iTunes and next time I’m in NYC I’m going to try and catch a live show. I’m an old dude, 54, and in the UK. You rock. More please ;)

  • Fool

    I know a 12 year old child, that I could kidnapp. But it’s my little brother and he plays tuba.

  • http://sain-web.com Traveller

    What a useful post here. Very informative for me..TQ friends…

    Buat Duit Dengan Blog

  • siorghra

    You may not read this since it’s been several months since this blog was posted, but I was catching up on your writing and was inspired to comment.
    I went to your concert (and Yoga class) in Northampton on Friday. I was having a hard time finding the words when I did get a chance to speak to you, but I thanked you for de-victimizing the world. I think what I meant was an example of just what is written in this article.
    Throughout my life, and especially in the past few years, I have struggled with feelings of being a victim. I have believed I could never be whole, and never be right. I’ve often thought of myself as broken beyond redemption. (This sounds awfully dramatic, but I’m teary from the Adagio and the prose so please excuse me. Incidentally, do you know how hard it is to read white on black with tears in your eyes?) My reason for telling you is that in the past month as I have delved more deeply into your music and history, I’ve found myself growing whole again, and to greater potential than I thought possible. Oddly enough, the song that has had the most effect is not some great symphony or even an emotional song full of deep lyrics and comfort- the healing song is Oasis. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing that. Do you have any idea what it’s like (you may, actually, I’m not sure) when all that’s ever been said is “oh dear, I wish I could help, you poor creature” or “hush, that shouldn’t be talked about”, and suddenly someone (and someone beautiful and inspiring) shouts “hey, this happens! and it’s not the end of the world! and there are other things in life! and more than that, you have permission to laugh about it!”? I don’t feel like small events in my past define who I am anymore, and that is so beautiful.
    Again, thank you. I owe you a lot. Also, beautiful picture :) You’re very lucky to have him.

  • gabrielborba

    Hi Amanda,

    I’m a film student (and music lover) from Brazil. I too sometimes stop and wonder if films matter at all. And I slowly realized that we, who chose the road of the arts, are bound to face a never-ending wall between us and most people: sensibility.
    I think that’s what it all comes down to. Believing that, even though it doesn’t result in something material, there is great value in going through a poetic inner travel, and explore yourself as a whole universe of meaning.
    Most people are just not ready for it, being caught up in this need to label things. But there are those who are willing to live their lives not only to stay alive, but to also allow themselves to relate to whatever it is that doesn’t meet the eye.

    How nice of you to post this.
    Thank you very much.

  • Jack Knetemann

    I have been trapped in a psychological battle for the past year. I am a guitarist of an exceptionally high caliber, and for the past six years have been swept up in an obsession with the instrument. I have made it my goal to become a musician of the highest skill possible, but have found conflict with another path, the one of social work. Music is far and away my primary aim, but I always felt that engrossing myself in the art was somewhat of a selfish act, or a waste of time compared to the humanitarian work I could be doing. That was until I read this. I have never thought about how intensely vital music is to the soul. Thanks to your writing it has dawned on me that I need not choose on over the other, that music is in fact the best and most profound medium for bringing good to the world. You have changed my life, thank you so much.

  • Andrew

    The Mahler Adagio was indeed beautiful, but was not the piece mentioned. It was, in fact, Barber’s Adagio for Strings. But the speech was amazing. It alone made me cry.

  • Mar

    This brought tears to my eyes even when I was not listening to music…

  • http://twitter.com/RtReview Gregg

    Beautiful, and I can’t think of a comment to do it justice. It just is, beautiful. Thanks.

  • Patrickmcclanahan

    i feel as if by reading this youve swept away all the things in my life that make me feel as jaded as i do know.
    being a musician seems to be as profound to me know as it did the day i first began. with only love patrick.

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