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Art and Truth

David Berger



Before we get started, let me apologize for not writing as often as I used to. I still love you, but I’ve been awfully busy and distracted. OK, that sounds like a lame letter from a cheating spouse or boyfriend, but the truth is that I’m in the midst of writing and publishing half a dozen books and a hundred scores. The book I’m writing (actually co-authoring with Marc Schwartz) is a music software manual, which hopefully, will raise the bar for Sibelius users—making their experience easier, better and less time consuming.


In order to write this book, I have had to learn the program and work with Marc to simplify it, so that even a technophobe like me can  master it and enjoy creating beautiful looking scores and parts. What I thought would be a scary experience has turned out to be very pleasurable and, as so often happens with pleasure, addicting. I’m obsessed with turning my hundreds of thousands of hand-copied pages of arrangements and transcriptions into beautiful, professionally engraved music.


The upshot of all this is I have been spending less time writing my blog. And for this I apologize to all my readers. Some of you have been concerned for my wellbeing. I am touched by your concern. Through the magic of the Internet, we have a personal relationship. I don’t always respond to your comments (there are just too many), but I do read them all and enjoy hearing from each one of you—not just when you agree with me, or praise my work, but also when you pull my coattail or tell me that I’m full of shit. I enjoy the discourse and am always glad to learn and grow.


So, if you’re not getting enough of my blogs, I might encourage you to go to and purchase a copy of Life in Db, which is a compilation of the first 45 blogs I wrote (this present blog is number 133). I found myself on the subway with only a copy of the book I was about to give to someone and read a handful of the pieces. I wrote them a couple of years ago, and had forgotten about them. I’m happy to say that I still like them and found them fun to read. The experience of revisiting them was like reading someone else’s work. I like this guy. I know that sounds funny, but I think it’s very important to like yourself. You can’t give away what you don’t have. This is important for ethical living and creating a happy and fruitful life.


Back in my teaching days, one of my students asked me what music I listen to for fun. I told him Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Stravinsky…He interrupted, “No, I mean for fun.” I told him that great music is fun for me. He asked if I listened to pop music. I told him that I heard some when it was unavoidable, but I didn’t care for it, and didn’t remember any pop songs recorded after 1974. I was 25 then, which is the usual cutoff age for musical styles. Those jazz musicians who were over 25 when Charlie Parker led the jazz world into bebop, remained swing players.


So what is it about pop music that I don’t like? There are two main areas: ignorance of the past and superficiality. I’ve spent the last 70 years (it started in my mother’s womb) learning music. I’ve studied hard to learn what composers and performers have been doing for the past 400 years. If I had to (and at times I have had to) write in the style of Rossini, Puccini, Bach, Webern, Berg, Ravel, and Jelly Roll up to Coltrane, Miles, and Wynton, I could do a pretty good job. I choose not to imitate all the great composers, and instead find my own voice based on my study and love of my predecessors and my own life experience.


Like all the other arts, music speaks to truth. Great music confronts us with great truths. It doesn’t lie or make it easy for us. We have to listen and learn. There is conflict and resolution. Without conflict, resolution lacks meaning and we learn little or nothing. Popular music shies away from conflict. It wants to make life easy and safe, so the listeners will like it and spend millions of dollars making the pop icons rich and the record companies even richer. Do you think that Beethoven or Mozart ever made those concessions? Not even remotely! That is one reason why their music remains as great today as it was when they wrote it and first performed it for people who mostly had no idea that it was better than the music of their contemporaries. Another reason is their attention to the complexity and relationships of detail.


Superficiality often comes from a desire to please. It’s like going on a first date. For many people, their first instinct is to try to impress their date by presenting their assets and hiding their negative traits and history with an inoffensive, middle-of –the-road veneer. This makes sense from a sales perspective, but do we really want to fool a prospective mate, or do we want to be loved for who we really are? This is a very important question.


Although I have a low tolerance for trashy books and movies, sometimes I get hooked on TV shows that are somewhat lowbrow, where the writing and acting are not entirely believable. I wish these flaws didn’t exist, because they continually distract me, but if there is enough to interest me, I come back week after week. Do I re-watch these episodes? No. I don’t want to get to the point where I stop noticing that people don’t really act or speak like that. So, although I have no appetite for pop music, there are a few pop TV shows that can slip through my filter. When this happens, I ask myself, “What do I like about this show that makes it worth my time?”


Last year I started watching a new series called Imposters. It’s about a beautiful woman who marries a man, and then proceeds to wipe out his bank accounts and credit cards before disappearing only to develop a different persona and repeat her scam on new unsuspecting marks (men and women). My initial reaction to the show was:


  1. She’s very beautiful, charming and exciting. I can see how men would be attracted to her.
  2. Her marks sincerely loved her and were crushed emotionally.
  3. I wondered if she loved them at all, and how she could lie to them for months or years without detection.
  4. Most of all, I wanted to know why an attractive, intelligent woman would choose such behavior.
  5. On the negative side, there are moments when the writing or acting doesn’t ring true, is overly simplistic or illogical (ice box talk).


When we go to the theater, we have to suspend reality and pretend like what is happening on the stage is real life. We do this with movies and magic shows because it’s fun. There is a point when we yell, “Bullshit!” That’s when it stops being fun. Everyone has their bullshit limit, and it can vary depending on how much we want to believe the story.


A long time ago, shortly before one of my marriages broke up, I asked my then wife why she hated me, to which she replied that I didn’t know who she was. My response was, “And whose fault is that?” As I found out some months later, she was right—I had no idea who she was. So, when I started watching Imposters, I noticed that there was some similarity between Maddie (the con artist imposter) and my ex-wife.


Now we are in Season 2. In last week’s episode, Maddie gets into therapy and after initially lying about who she is, she has an epiphany and decides to lay her cards on the table for the therapist. She explains that she has this talent to know what men want and to be able to give it to them.


When people have asked me why I married my ex-wife, I told them that a month into dating, she decided that she wanted to marry me, and became what she thought was the woman I would want to marry. She stopped smoking, cut down on her drinking, changed how she dressed, started to read books, began listening to jazz, stopped eating meat and took cooking classes with a top chef, and so on. Instead of saying to myself, “Is she sincere?” I thought that she recognized how great I was, and of course, who wouldn’t want to marry me.” Now, I’m exaggerating, but my ego was telling me a somewhat lesser version of that. So, we moved in together, and after she asked me to marry her every day for two years, I finally capitulated.


Her behavior was a bit erratic. She could be amazingly kind and loving and then turn around and throw the remote control at my head. I was confused, but I thought that she was young and would mature. A different girlfriend of mine once described me as a narcissist. I’m not so sure about that, but I have to admit that I have tended to think that other people think as I do. This was especially true when I was young. I’ve come to see the fallacy in this as I’ve matured.


So back to Maddie in therapy—the therapist says that Maddie gave these marks what they wanted, but at the expense of what she wanted. Maddie says that she grew to love them a little, but when it came time to leave, she would just tell herself that it was her job.


That’s it! I’ve often wondered why my ex-wife was so angry. It wasn’t me. She was angry that she gave up being herself to pretend to be what I liked. To some extent, women have been doing this forever. Just yesterday I saw a commercial on TV in which a woman said that when she uses this product, her husband likes how it makes her look. Who cares what her husband thinks? How does she like how it makes her look?


We are in a new phase of the women’s rights movement. They have the right to vote, own property, work alongside and above men. The salary gap is closing, but old habits and fears die hard.


I was telling a woman friend just the other night that every year there is a nationwide poll asking men and women what’s the most important thing they are looking for in a mate. Overwhelmingly, men are looking for physical beauty and women are looking for security. So my friend asked me what I was looking for. I said, “Someone who will encourage me to be my authentic self by being her authentic self.” And if she has all the superficial stuff I like, that’s a bonus. Just one thing, though—don’t lie to me. Enough already!

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  • Ronald Hartwell on

    I experienced similar thing two times in my life. Both of these women loved certain kinds of music and liked the idea of being involved with musician but didn’t like the process of being a musician.

    I finally have been very lucky to meet the woman I am married to. I referr to her as my forever wife. She not only enjoys most of the music that I do but has been extremely supportive of my music projects and performance.

    Why fake it when you can choose reality and authenticity.

    “You must play the notes you know”


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