A Zen Mind: The Subjectiveness of Music

I read a memoir about a man who longed to study Zen in Japan. This was shortly after WWI, and the man was reeling from the horrors of war and questioning what life was about. The man had saved up enough money to last a year, and he travelled to Japan and submitted to the rigors of the Zen monastery for a year. At the end of the year, though, he was still unenlightened and he couldn’t afford to stay any longer. He asked his Zen master to just tell him–just tell him the answer. The master said, “I could tell you. I have tea–but you have no cup.”

I take this to mean that the Zen master had words, but the student wouldn’t grasp their meaning.

And I thought–that’s kind of like composing. We compose music and put it out there–sometimes a listener gets it and sometimes not.

No one appreciates every type of music. Nobody has a cup for everything. We’re all the student in this story at one time or another. Music is not inherently good or bad. It’s subjective every time. I take judgments about my music with that in mind, always.