The Dean of Music at the University of Toronto gave a speech to welcome my younger son's cohort in 2012. He stood on the stage, surrounded by eager, passionate music students and began by mentioning (not exact words) the zeitgeist norm that anyone who chose a career in music these days had to be a couple notes short of a full octave. The kids laughed. The parents laughed. And as we parents were laughing, we looked down at our shoes and wondered if we were the worst parents ever and what would it take to get the boy all cozy in some business program? But the Dean kept speaking and we looked up from our shoes. We looked up because he explained that the problems of the world were not going to be solved by political posturing, and certainly not by corporate largess, but by the way we connect with each other on a soul level. And how do we do that? Through the arts. It would be the arts that would bring us all together on this planet. To study music was not foolish at all. It was actually essential. Everyone in that room breathed a sigh of relief.
It was a good speech. I'm not sure if, when he wrote it, he knew just how right he was. I'm not sure if he was imagining how far things would slide on the planet. But the core of his message, whatever the scenario, was irrefutable: Humans are emotional beings. We are at our best when we are tapped in to that deeper part of ourselves that comes from the delight of a painting that catches our eye, a poem that puts words to our heartbreak, or a character in a play that seems to be speaking directly to us and making us laugh. It is our experiences with the arts(I consider nature as poetry) that help us define who we are. They draw us out, lay our emotions before us and weave them delicately into the grander tapestry of humanity. They give us the fire to narrow in on who we are on an authentic level. And when we are living authentic lives, we are passionate, vibrant, and fearless.
I think there is no better time to ramp up the arts than right now. I agree with the Dean. I think it's essential.