I heard a piece the other day that was sincere but dishonest.

Does anybody know what I mean by that? I run into these pieces from time to time. They are the ones in which I can hear the composer thinking, “here I’ll show them how soulful I am, then I’ll give them an exciting outburst of loud crashes and bangs, and I’ll finish up with this wham-bang that will bring them to their feet with a rousing cheer.”

Why do I call that sincere but dishonest? Because I really believe that many of these composers have no idea how calculating and dishonest their music sounds. They sincerely believe, in their heart of hearts, that they are composing meaningful works of art. The problem isn’t that they are being dishonest with us, it’s that they are being dishonest with themselves. They aren’t in touch with who they really are, just with what they want us to think of them.

Of course, there have been many insincere dishonest works throughout the ages, and some of them are truly great pieces – for example, when a composer churns out something to pay the bills, or to satisfy the king’s ego, or to stay out of prison. It’s amazing how many absolutely brilliant works have been created under circumstances in which the composer was covering up true feelings.

But hiding how you really feel is different from not knowing who you are.

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