Logic vs. magic

October 16th, 2010

This article came out of a lunch conversation with Dr Sam Logsdon, Chair of the music department at TAMU/CC. Sam is one of those highly enlightened individuals who also happens to be an administrator. I am honored to have him as a colleague.

The tendency these days, in many corridors of authority, is to adopt the objective approach.

The emphasis is on facts, data and evaluations, supported by copious documentation.

Objectivity is fine. It’s a worthy goal, but in itself, it’s missing one crucial element of the human condition – magic.

What is this magic?

It’s the indefinable, the unquantifiable.

But is there anything that is unquantifiable? And if there’s such a thing, why do we need to factor it into the equation? After all, we’re living in an objective world, and dealing with science and hard facts, not superstition or voodoo.

The answer lies in the human body

According to science (and hard facts) the human body is made out of chemical ingredients, which, if sold across the counter, costs about $4.50.

If we agree that we should concern ourselves only with things that are quantifiable and measurable, then that leads us to an inescapable conclusion, that all of us are worth about $4.50.

Yes, I can hear the howls of indignation.

But what’s the missing component that makes us think we’re worth more than $4.50?

That’s the magic I’m talking about.

When you put together a bunch of chemicals costing $4.50 and get a human being, that’s magic.

That’s the magic that we’re missing in our obsession with hard facts, measurable data, evaluations and figures.

Some guitar teachers seem to think that all they need to do as a teacher is make sure the student follow all the ‘rules’ of good playing and he or she will automatically become a great player.

Some administrators seem to think that all they need to do is make sure everybody follow the rules of the organization and they’ll automatically have a great thriving organization.

By that same logic, if we want a human being, all we need to do is go to the store and purchase $4.50 worth of chemicals and we’ll have a human being too.

They’re forgetting one basic ingredient – magic.

It reminds me of what someone wrote some years back, that you can go to pretty much any college campus in the US and find a composition professor who will be able to write a better fugue than Beethoven, better in counterpoint, better in construction, better in overall technical mastery, but who would want to listen to it?

Logic is easy, magic is much more difficult.

My goal as a teacher has always been to help each student discover his or her own magic.

It’s not easy. It requires you to be extremely responsive, to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in the student, to allow for unusual configurations, positions, to go against conventional wisdom. The focus is not on imposing a fixed system on the student but to allow him or her to come up with their own system, one that’s optimized for their unique situation.

It would be much easier to prescribe some generic formulas on hand placement, correct finger motion, which joint to move (I think the general consensus is the knuckle) and how much follow-through to effect after a stroke and leave the student to deal with all that information.

But I’ve never been one to shrink away from a hard task.

I derive inspiration from the fact that this bag of $4.50 chemicals can still play a tune, write a blog, spend time eating lunch with a colleague on a beautiful fall day, and strike a polemical note on the direction our data-driven ‘objectivity-conscious’ society is taking.

It suggests to me that my real purpose in life is to work on magic, and to leave the logic to the paper pushers, the bureaucrats, because they don’t have a clue as to what this magic thing is all about.

And of course, not to forget to supply them with all the ‘data’ they need, after all, they need to have something to do, to justify their paychecks.

2 Responses to “Logic vs. magic”

  1. suituapui Says:

    My missus’ niece took piano lessons and had a made-in-China piano in the house. Everytime she played, it did not sound good and they blamed the piano – cheap, China-made…but once, I dropped by with a friend (Perak guy teaching in Song at that time) and when he played, even the neighbours came over to peep to see who it was… I guess that’s the “magic” that you are talking about, that special something in everybody that makes everybody different?

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    Yes, that’s the magic! It’s hard to define but like that other thing, you know it when you see (or hear) it. A, good to hear from you. Thanks for dropping by.

Leave a Reply