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Perspective: What's the most important musical instrument?

Caleb George

What’s your favorite musical instrument?

Piano? Violin?

Oboe? Accordion?

Guitar? Sitar?

Which instrument’s most important?

That’s easy-- It’s the musician! The PERSON who uses their body and breathing, emotion and imagination, to animate the musical tool. Without the attention, energy and skill of a human being, the implements we call instruments would be just inanimate objects.

We frequently experience music as disembodied sound, produced—or so it would seem—by an electronic device. Where are the people creating the music? They’re invisible, easily forgotten, perhaps even in danger of being replaced.

Synthesizers generate whole orchestras and bands. Artificial intelligence mimics singing, composes music, and may yet invent brand new genres. How much time will pass before today’s musical instruments are artifacts, lying silent in museums? Will our great- great- grandchildren be astounded that people once invested years of their time, and sometimes significant sums of money, learning to make music?

Has music become a commodity, to be produced as quickly, cheaply, and effortlessly as possible? What of those people we call musicians, who’ve invested their whole selves, body, mind, and soul, in pursuit of beauty, truth, harmony, transcendence?

If you, too, value musicians, offer your support and appreciation by attending live concerts and donating to music schools and other organizations promoting the musical arts.

And when you listen to music coming from a device, imagine the musicians whose humanity is the source of that meaningful sound. And when their last note fades away, you might even give them your applause!

Colleen McDonald serves on the Board and takes piano lessons at the Music Academy in Rockford (Yes, she practices every day!); participates in the Piano Performance group at the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center; rings handbells in the Bell Choir of Spring Creek Church; and attends Rockford Symphony concerts as a subscriber. She and her husband, Jerry, live in Rockford.