Feature Article David Jordan The developments during the past two months have surely set in motion reflective thoughts in all of us. With the passing of John Scott and Sir David Willcocks, we are prompted to think about legacy. These two human beings left a wonderful legacy of encouragement, honesty and focus of effort, and, of course, magnificent results. They are and will be missed. Hopefully their legacy will encourage us to assimilate their approaches to life and music to help build our own meaningful legacies.
For our purposes, we will use the definition of legacy as "anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor." Legacies are, more or less, what we remember about a person. A legacy is not hard to create. The truth is, whatever we do, we leave a legacy. Short lived, long lived, world changing or not, positive or negative we leave a legacy. As musicians we are blessed with many great legacies that influence us today. Let me share a legacy with you. Let’s see “when” you guess who left us this legacy. Orphaned at 10, he and his younger brother walked 30 miles to live with their older brother for two years. He then needed to move on because his older brother and wife were expecting yet another baby. From the age of 12 he made his way on his own, singing in church choirs, playing music as a street musician. Determined, persistent. He did not have a formal education but learned composition by “reverse engineering” music scores. Needless to say, he was pretty intelligent, and independent. It was expected in his country that once you were selected as organist for a church, you would stay there your entire life. He didn’t. He went on to several different positions and butted heads with much of the leadership of towns, churches, courts, and choirs. Patience was not one of his virtues. He had one job interview that promised fame, comfort, money, and security. One catch: he would have had to marry the boss’s daughter. Okay, well…he walked 200 miles back home to work out plan B. He was 18 years old when he landed his first choir job and had choir boys older than himself. He ended up in a street brawl with one of them, a bassoonist, and allegedly drew his sword and cut the vest of his opponent to shreds.
One of the things he did throughout his career was focus on creating glorious music for the church and court. There is no indication that he was hoping for some kind of legacy that would live on forever. He was doing his job. Competitive? I would guess. But consumed with leaving a legacy? No, just truly absorbed with doing his job really well. And his focus was certainly Soli Deo Gloria. Yes, Johann Sebastian Bach left what we consider a substantial legacy of highly intelligent instrumental music, oratorios, motets, and dedication to his art, and well, you know: “Soli Deo Gloria.” Most of his legacy is the great music we enjoy, some of his legacy is the tattered vest of the bassoonist. When he died, his music was on the wane in deference for more “singable” popular music. Hmm. But there was truth and a foundation in his music that has driven and inspired us for centuries. Our legacy does not need to be like Bach’s in its weight or force. Our legacy is being made every day in the decisions we make. We come to a fork in the road and sometimes, “just take it,” not thinking about the long lasting effects that it may have. Other times we are very deliberate in our decisions and decide which fork to take, which path to create. My personal observation is that when people focus on "leaving a legacy,” they start to make big mistakes. However, when you focus on your gifts and use them fully and completely, you will be doing compelling things. You will most likely leave a positive inspiring legacy. We, as musicians, have a great opportunity to leave that very positive legacy.
I recently came across a very interesting question: "What will your legacy say about what you have done to make your profession better than when you entered it?" Great question! You don’t have to change your profession; just improve it somehow in your way, with your own gift, with your own effort and dedication. So what am I saying? Really, legacy is pretty simple. Do what you do (your own unique gifting), do it well, do it with the focus of helping other people in their journey, and you will certainly leave a great legacy.
Here’s to leaving a great legacy by doing what you are doing, doing it better than when you began, and helping others through what you do. Onward and forward! Legacy: Ready or not -- here I come!