Who do you aim to please?

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I’m drawing inspiration from yet another memorable quotation today – “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.  It was a statement made by John Lydgate – a poet, which was later borrowed and customised by Abraham Lincoln, apparently. I wonder if it is a good idea to seek approval from anyone at all, let alone putting one’s self through contortions to please the public at large.

Business people and politicians sign up to an unspoken deal where they have to at least pay lip service to the idea of “giving people what they want”. Sometimes, these same people need to be informed about options and choices that they are unaware of, so where does one draw the line?

Some of us feel summoned by a calling to do things that are outside of the immediate terms of reference of people who we share heritages with. I have discovered it to be a thankless task, trying to make myself somehow acceptable when I’m the only culturally different person involved in a specific activity. This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t follow through on that calling, however.

One artist whom I find to be highly inspirational is Scott Joplin – the African American composer who was regarded as the “King of Ragtime”. I have been fortunate enough to sing a role in a presentation of Joplin’s opera – “Treemonisha” (1910). Apparently, the opera never got a proper production in Joplin’s lifetime, despite his efforts to get the work heard. Decades later, “Treemonisha” won the composer a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for music. The work now has a life of its own and has become part of the American operatic repertoire, for better or worse.

I don’t believe in glamorising the notion of the “starving artist in a garret”. If a creative person can find ways of connecting with a sizable audience in his or her life time, then that is a cause for celebration. On the other hand, the fact that someone is possibly out of sync with the times that he or she lives in shouldn’t be a reason for not answering to their calling and doing what they need to do.

 

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