Boy cellist going through puberty: “Mom! Listen! I woke up today and my voice was a B-flat!”
The deeper my son’s voice goes, the more hours a day he practices. And the more hours he practices, the more I worry about what he’ll do in a world where no one pays to hear a cellist play live.
The homeschooler in me believes my job is to create a loving, joyful childhood for my kids. And in that sense I am so happy to have cello music as the soundtrack to our lives. But the career coach in me thinks it’s a disservice to send a kid into the adult world with no marketable skill. I’ve seen what happens to those kids and it’s not good.
I tell my son maybe he should try to study art or learn a language. My son says backup plans are for people who don’t believe in themselves. But he is willing to learn German so he can study with a famous cello teacher there, and directs me and my credit card to the Optilingo site. He says he’ll be a soloist or homeless. I am starting to think the two lifestyles may go together. Even in German.
I look at financially precarious orchestras and on-strike symphonies and find myself suggesting to people in the cello world that classical music looks dead. Many people say that classical music has been “on the brink of crisis” forever but that it’s singular beauty precludes crisis. But people tell me we are in the age of musical creativity. But that sounds to me like the archeologist who told me we are in the age of fish: I’m not arguing it’s not true, I just don’t see evidence of it around me.
Rather, I see we are in the golden era of video. Recently my son showed me hilarious videos of people reading comments from PornHub. You wouldn’t believe how many kids get homework help on PornHub. And in that same sitting my son showed me a video Alisa Weilerstein talking about how she uses the weight of her upper arm to affect her sound.
When my son talks about creating an emotional connection with the audience, I think he has reached an echelon only 10% of people can hear. He is playing cello for the audience that watches Alisa Weilerstein talk about her arm. But I keep thinking he needs to figure out how to play cello for the audience watching PornHub. (Not that there isn’t some cross-over.)
I tell him he should have a YouTube channel or write cello memes or play Taylor Swift songs. He is not interested. And he tells me I’m stupid, which is probably as clear a sign of puberty as a dropping voice.
But then I read about Nvidia, a company that developed software that can create realistic looking people who are not real. And it’s not just people. Horses, trees, lots of things that no one can tell the difference between real and not real. Look at the pictures. It’s impressive.
Soon Nvidia will be able to put snow where there is not snow. As Tim Hwang, of the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund puts it, this software merely serves “to accelerate a problem we already have.” Which is to say that we cannot tell what’s real anymore.
I see that problem already in writing. I fond myself stumbling on computer generated writing more often lately. And Kevin Rose (a real person) writes that we’re all probably better off letting computers write the articles that are data heavy and appreciating the human element in writing that requires it.
So I can see a world where real will be special, and in-person will matter. The tension of knowing if someone will succeed will only matter if it’s live. And the connection we feel to video personalities will dissipate as we begin to suspect the person is not real.
People will want to hear Bach in person, so maybe my son will not starve. More than ever I am thinking there is a future for people who work in-person. Maybe people will also want to hear blog posts in person, so they know it’s real. Then public reading will make a resurgence – though hopefully not until I’m finished sequestering myself at home while raising my kids.