On the certainty of principles

So Werner Heisenberg is driving down a road, enjoying the scenery. Suddenly, without warning, he hears the squeal of sirens behind him and sees a motorcycle cop motioning for him to pull over. With some resignation he stops the car, finds his license and registration, and waits for the officer to come up to his window.

Officer: “Do you know how fast you were going?”

WH: “No, but I know where I am!”

For the musicians reading this, there’s no more – that was the punchline. It’s a very nerdy joke, a reference to a key hypothesis in quantum mechanics as advanced by Heisenberg, stating that it’s impossible to determine both the position and the speed of a particle at the same time, since the very act of measuring one characteristic directly alters the other.

I’m leaving for Venezuela in less than 36 hours. This is the obligatory rite of passage, the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Every man and his dog seems to have gone, and the most common refrain upon return is “you have to see it to understand.” That makes me nervous. It suggests undefinable and unmeasurable. We intend to measure, certainly, not with the intent of creating value judgments but with the intent of understanding, then translating, adapting, or if possible, replicating. This is our mandate. But there are many dangers in measurement, not the least that you may not get the results you hoped for – the improbable, but NOT impossible null hypothesis. There’s also the temptation in measuring to align the world to your ruler, rather than your ruler to the world. Answers will always depend very much on the questions asked, and the questions asked are inevitably shaped by overriding motivations or intentions. And sometimes questions aren’t asked at all because the answers might provoke more inquiry. Or outrage.

Heisenberg has validity beyond atomic theory: measurement cannot be effected without changing what is measured to some degree. No matter how impartially something is scrutinized, its image will always be subject to some distortion by virtue of the human lens under which it is seen. In our two months we’re only going to scratch the surface of inquiry, and I use that turn of phrase deliberately, for in measuring we will leave the surface scratched. I’m conscious of all the potential outcomes and offer only the disclaimer that no matter what we do in Venezuela, much more will remain to be done.

And I’ll close by saying, with a smile, that when in Venezuela, we’ll be moving incredibly fast.

One thought on “On the certainty of principles

  1. When my mentors in the American Suzuki World encouraged me to go to Japan 20 years ago to study with Dr. Suzuki they said, “You need to plan on staying at least 3 months at the bare minimum to catch something worth bringing back.”
    After chasing a 90 year old Japanese Violin teacher up 3 fights of stairs to the auditorium for group lessons 7 days a week for three months I realized that something was going on in Matsumoto that I was not going to find anywhere else. Was it the altitude or the thinner air that affected my judgment? Or was it the realization that this teacher who was already outliving himself by a decade would be an ocean away if I returned home?
    Many of my American mentors were still returning to see Sensei again and experience this unique musical environment while he was still alive. I thought if I were to leave now, he might not be here to return to. The whole experience will be different with out this driving force behind the environment. Indeed this was a musical Shangri La, caught in time and space that could not be reproduced. No matter how hard we try, Suzuki teachers around the world do not have the ability to recapture the Japanese Suzuki Experience in quite the same way.
    You like my mentors will know Abreu as a relatively young and still very globally active personality not yet hindered by age. You will return home to apply what you believe you have captured and sometimes wonder in disbelief, how did he do that? What did we over look or not understand about what we were observing?

    Each culture you return to will have its own capacity to absorb what each of you return with. Not one community will reflect the magic of El Sistema in quite the same way. This should not be construed as some sort of failure. One should also appreciate the needs of each one of the disparate destinations you will return to. They will be chosen for their challenges. Welcome the gifts that you will discover in your mistakes.

    If Maestro Abreu has not published anything to date, it is because he is fighting with his might to keep El Sistema from becoming something that is frozen in a test tube. He has wisely learned so much from the frustrations of those great pedagogues who have preceded him. El Sistema will only flourish in the world if it is allowed to grow organically in the creative hands of those who are inspired by it. Expect what you persue to be illusive. This the only verification that you will have.

    You are absolutely right about one thing. This will be the most accelerated 2 months of your life. You will feel that way even if you had the opportunity to stay in Venezuela for a year. Don’t blink. You just might miss something.

    Post disclosure:
    I don’t know how it happen. Somehow my three months in Japan became 3 years in an instant. Was it something Sensei said about Einstein?

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