"For the use of…"

So while drinking theraflu (head cold) and watching bad daytime TV (what else do you do with a head cold?), I’m catching up on my blogs. I found this entry about poverty over at A Nun’s Life. Sr. Julie writes:

When I asked a sister about why they say “for the use of” she said that no one of us owns a single thing in the congregation — even that prayer book that we’ve used for years and which bears the marks of our praying hands and of our tears. By the simple act of writing “for the use of” a sister recognizes that she truly does not own a thing and that all she has is gift. A sister recognizes that if one of her sisters needed that prayer book, she would give it to her in a heartbeat.

Her discussion of poverty and ownership reminded me of knowledge–in a sense, it isn’t really mine. It was entrusted to me by someone else, and I’m only using it, until I pass it off to future students. In a sense that which I’m learning about now is only “for the use of Jen” until such time that it’s time for me to give it away to someone else.

In another blog, I found this post. Now I don’t doubt that some cloning as composition teaching went on in generations before me, but I’ve never personally experienced it. I’ve never felt pressured into adopting one style over another. If a teacher played another person’s music for me, it was because the piece was interesting or that it was something the teacher wanted to share, not because it was something I should emulate. Perhaps the piece represented a possible solution to a problem I had in a piece. Maybe it was just something cool. Most of my teachers have been pretty quiet on the subject of their own music–which in retrospect is a shame because I can’t think of a teacher I’ve had who doesn’t write good music.

I was warned when I was applying for my doctorate that it would ruin me, that I’d not encounter good music, and that those who get doctorates aren’t good composers. The first three haven’t been true, and as to the last one, I know plenty of people who write horrible music and don’t have a last bit of alphabet soup after their names. I think that’s the one, great equalizer of academics and non-academics–we all write bad music now and then.

I think my teachers have all instinctively embodied Sr. Julie’s understanding of poverty–that the knowledge we have isn’t really ours, and should be willingly given up to those who need it. Our knowledge is a gift, and to pass it on is the greatest tribute we could possibly give to those who gave it to us in the first place. Maybe those who worry about the loss of a voice or creativity never really had it in the first place.


~ by Jen on January 16, 2007.

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