The Arts, the Senses, and the Imagination
by Robert Millar on April 3rd, 2014

When many of us were kids, our parents used to try to curb our tendency to be picky when it came to food by shaming us into clearing our plates with the motivational phrase, “The starving children in (name the unfortunate country) would give anything to have the food you’re leaving behind!” In the wake of that chastening comment, most of us felt duty-bound to shovel in those last few bites of casserole, although I’m sure many of us were secretly thinking “So send it to them, then.” The incident didn’t necessarily make for fun times at dinner, nor did it prevent us from inventing some novel ways of surreptitiously disposing of the unwanted items without actually eating them (Hmmm…Fido really seems to be gaining weight!). But it did drive home some vague awareness that not all others were as well off as we were, and I suppose it may have produced some of our first stirrings of social conscience and an awareness of the fact that in some ways we were privileged.

It turns out that our parents were probably right in trying to bring the issue of scarcity into our realm of awareness. We do often forget how lucky we are. Scarcity is an awful thing when it comes to the necessities of life. We see this all too clearly in the daily news as people around the world struggle just to secure the basics --- food, clean water, shelter, and safety. But beyond these basics we all share a common need to express ourselves in some way. A life in which self-expression is impossible suffers poverty of another kind, and because styles of self-expression vary depending on the innate talents and gifts with which each of us has been endowed, a variety of venues need to be available for their realization.

Across the United States, children of affluent (enough) families are being carted around during their extracurricular hours to a veritable smorgasbord of activities aimed at providing the kinds of opportunities which, it is hoped, will enhance their lives in some way. The list of these “enrichment” activities goes on and on, from an almost infinite variety of sports to a host of Arts possibilities. For a handful of kids, their experiences in these endeavors will “take” because the children have a natural gift for the activity. They will “bloom” through their participation in the enterprise and it will be a wonderful source of self-expression for them throughout their lives. Many of the others for whom these efforts do not hold significant appeal will remember only how busy their childhood was, how much was being demanded of them for which they were not suited, and how little free time they had. They take their bustling and privileged lives for granted just as much as we did as children when we so lightly regarded the abundance of food on our plates. And just as in the case of the leftover food, once again it’s too bad that some of those unseized opportunities can’t be distributed to those who really need them.

That’s why it’s so touching and inspiring to watch this video about the Landfill Harmonic, a musical effort that grew and developed amidst a context of poverty and scarcity. It speaks volumes about the necessity for people of any social stratum to express themselves (in this case through music), even if it means having to be incredibly ingenious and determined to do so. The people in the video remind us of the transformative powers of generosity, resourcefulness, and love in creating better lives for ourselves and others. But more than that, the video is a testimony to the ability of music to lift us out of whatever our daily circumstances may be and carry us into a state of consciousness where there is not only the possibility for self-expression, but where there is still the beauty, truth, hope, and inspiration that can renew our enthusiasm for life. What you will see is a persuasive argument for the importance of the Arts in society not merely as sources of idle amusement and diversion, but as essential avenues for the expression of the world of feelings that lies within each of us at the core of our common humanity.

Posted in MUSIC    Tagged with music, POVERTY, LANDFILL HARMONIC, inspiration, EDUCATION, arts


Mary Nam - February 1st, 2016 at 12:32 AM
This video is very touching indeed. I do love how the community came together for the purpose of expression through music. I do believe in this situation, the video is a testament to the ability of music to lift the community of Paraquay into a renewed purpose and passion for life. And it even may possibly be, as you say "a persuasive argument for the importance of the Arts in society." But the question I have is this; does the importance and impact of the Arts differ in different societies?

Maybe in a society like Paraquay, there are fewer avenues for self expression, thus the impact of having this music/art program be life changing and life full filling. But in a society like America it may only be one of a zillion things available that is life changing and full filling. There is more supply of avenues for self expression evident by the over scheduled children that are being carted from one activity to another.

And is the arts the only "essential avenue for the expression of the world of feelings that lies within each of us"? Has our society and the people in our society evolved to being so individualized that could it be possible that not everyone needs the Arts to connect to feelings? Are we ask inclined to the Arts? Or should each of us have training in some form of the Arts even though we have no talent for it?

I played piano for about 7 yrs growing up. I didn't love to practice and really wished I could play sports instead. Maybe I am more inclined for self expression through sports? But as much as I struggle with this, whether the Arts is a necessity for a full filling life full of self expression, I hedge my bets. And I bet on it being better to have music training than not, with or without a natural ability for it. I believe in the growth mindset!

So there I go carting my 10 and 12 yr olds to piano lessons when they don't love it. And I also cart them to soccer and basketball too. When they are older maybe they will realize value in the music lessons.

Leave a Comment