The Mozart Fallacy

On the day of my first rehearsal with a band in Livingston while taking a break, the band director asked me a question that has been debated over by many people, “In the movie Amadeus did Salieri kill Mozart?” Therefore, I told him that in real life, he and Mozart were playful rivals and improvised off each other in their works and that Salieri in the movie pretended to kill Mozart because he was full of grief. However, I thought over the scenario repeatedly with psychological and philosophical ideas about who the real killer of Mozart was. Then it came to me when I read about the Buddhist concept of people having a, “God Complex” where they think a person’s attributes makes them like a God, but at the end of the day they have the same problems and issues that we all have that make us fallible and human. In fact, Buddhism is not really a religion, it is a philosophy and when you ask a Buddhist if they believe in a god they will tell you, “Why would anyone want to be a god? It’s too demanding!” which is exactly what the Buddha himself said to a disciple who asked the same question.

It made me finally make the conclusion that the concept of calling someone a genus is very demanding because in Amadeus Salieri uses the word God to describe Mozart many times until he realizes in the end when Mozart dies…that all along he was just a normal human with a incredible ability for music. Therefore, one word is the culprit of killing Mozart…Genus! First, let me explain why this little word can be a heavy burden for not just intellects, but also for people with mental and cognitive impairments like myself at an early age. It all began with my grandma when I first started playing tuba and when I got my first solo book in the mail after I sent a letter to Canadian Brass about them doing a sketch on Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It was a book of three arias from the opera and the first one I really worked my tail off on was O Isis and Osiris. The high priest Sarastro who after sending prince Tamino and his friend Papageto the bird catcher to do various test and trials, he prays to Isis and Osiris asking them to help and guide them through their trials. Whenever I played that piece around her she would phrase me and tell me that one day I would be a virtuoso…which to be called this if you are a musician takes you on a road to delusional grandeur and arrogance.

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Thus, it began to spiral into wanting to be like Charles Daellenbach or be the next cast member of Blast. I wanted to prove to people that I could do Rossini’s aria from the Barber of Seville Largo al Factotum by memory, beat up other tuba players with Flight of the Bumblebee, and be in a marching band with my sousaphone ready to do Malaguena! The problem was that when people told me I could not do the things I thought I could do, it was hard to spiral into reality and out of these delusions of genus that my grandmother told me I could be. When I finally accepted my flaws and did not show-off for others I became a better player and a soloist but still these delusions haunt and anger me even when I was told to change my major in college from music to journalism and sociology. I love making music and I want to involve music-education as part of my study but I still have many wounds to heal from this delusion. However, it is not just a form of detrimental phrase people abuse too much; it can also be an expectation from teachers and band directors that can harm not just one student but many students who enjoy making music for fun but also hurt their experience more than benefit from it .Imagine if you will two bassoon players, one is taught at a music store but one is playing in a youth orchestra or a symphonic band.

They are both good musicians, friends, and work very hard to get what they want out of life with their passion for music. Yet they are separated by ability and income which latter on in life will be judged by their peers, music teachers, and directors. They both decide that they want to be part of their school’s music program, but what they do not know is that one of them will feel jealous and unsupported and the other successful and admired which becomes the fuel for the end of a friendship that started in fifth to eighth grade. They both audition with their favorite solos and are asked where they were taught, “I got lessons from the music store from Mr.Tod,” says the first one so he is put in the concert band because the director thinks he and Mr.

Tod need to work harder. The second one says, “I go to the Art’s Academy to get lessons and I’m first chair for the orchestra/symphonic band” and thus begins the band director’s self-fulfilling prophecy that the second bassoonist should be in the symphonic band where all his peers will be higher-level musicians. “He is the one that will get a scholarship, he’s the one to win that solo ensemble contest!” says the director boastfully. The first bassoonist on the other hand is treated differently than his friend who will be phrased and win lots of awards. Our tale ends with our first bassoonist, defeated and wounded by the extreme expectation to be like the second bassoonist from his director rather than creating a place where they could mentor each other and keep their friendship going.

Instead of solving the problem, the director was trying to find the next Mozart just like the judges on American Idol finding the next superstar. However, there is also the same expectation put on parents with gifted or intellectual children no matter what they do to help their child succeed and not just the mothers in Dance Moms that feel this way, band and choir parents are put in a terrible situation when expectations get high and demanding for their child. Therefore, parents learn a terrible lesson from band boosters that groupthink with directors, if you cannot beat the director, join the director and expect the same treatment without a question, complaint, report, or disagreement. In some scenarios the parent who is the pusher and enterprising person is always, the one who gets respect even if what they do is detrimental to their child latter on in life. These groups of children known by our urban lingo as Trophy Children because the parents admire their child’s success (the trophies) rather than how the child feels or thinks about what they need emotionally and physically so they can feel better about themselves. They over work themselves so they cannot be criticized or degraded by their teachers or parents and have no recognition that no one is perfect or fallible which makes us human and learn something new that will lead to more paths in life.

They lose out on life because they are afraid to fail or even show a weakness that they need help with because in the mind of their parents and teachers they are the next child prodigy, and are warned about what happens when they have a weakness or a flaw. “If you don’t win state solo ensemble then you won’t get a scholarship!” “If you don’t know this scale then you can’t be in symphonic band!” “If your audition fails you won’t get the part!” To these children failure equals shame, all opportunities are manipulated by the patent or the director, and they have no choice to create their own individual doors of opportunity though their creativity and musicianship. Yet little do they know that wonderful things that we know and love started off as failures, Dr. Suess’s film The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T, the ballet The Nutcracker, Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, and even Disney’s Fantasia stared off as fiascoes and box office bombs. Therefore, failure is not really a option as most people say, but a door that shuts that leads to another door that has something wonderful inside.

When they grow up as adults, it is difficult for them to accept their mistakes and weakness’s, respect their co-workers and their peers for their failures, and learn how to help themselves and others. Also, they expect the same exceptions and heighten goals that for some people are unable to reach. They say comments like,” I want you to work harder than you did before” “You can’t fail this time” “It’s very important that you do this for me” “If this is not done we cannot make it” and “You can’t make a mistake”. The prospect of a teacher or director pushing their students to perfection will result in that student that even though he or she tries to the best of his abilities to achieve the goal, is pushed aside to make room for the virtuoso’s and prodigies that the director favors. In the end there will be complaints filed, harassment by the boosters and peers in the higher levels, and worse of all is the bulling and groupthink of the entire band environment. Recently the director of the Ohio State marching band (famous for “Dot the I”) got fired when a report was filed about constant accounts of hazing, harassment, and bulling in the marching band culture which had been addressed many times by students and investigators but was pushed away decades until now.

One audio-clip from this report has him yelling at a drum major and using very offensive language, and yet students and boosters still cheered and admired him for directing the Best-Dam-Band-In-The-Land. The point is that even though a director or an educator has many degrees and awards and may look like their slate is clean and pristine, the power that they are capable of abusing is greater if everyone thinks he or she is the perfect director. The fact that people need to consider is that no musician, no matter what experience they have is perfect and when we say their a prodigy, genus, or virtuoso we ignore the fact that imperfection is wonderful and beautiful and that one persons weakness is part of that person’s strength. Even though people thought Mozart was a genus, he had many human problems and issues that many people have. He is carried away in his work, he is very arrogant, and at the end of his life he became poor and when he died, he could not afford a funeral. Therefore, Amadeus is a cautionary tale about what happens when we take a person with amazing abilities and talents and push them too far with the expectation of perfection.

If Mozart were alive today, he would be on medication, have an aid, and get therapy from a psychologist with all the pressure people put him under to make so much music. However, Mozart is not the only composer with these issues; many composers, and musicians pushed him or herself so hard until they died. We all need someone to tell us that no matter what imperfections we have we are wonderful people, not a genus, not a prodigy, and not a virtuoso. We are human and we are just as good as any award or degree anyone has on their shelf or wall.