Thoughts on the Stephen Melillo Clinic
Two weeks ago today, the orchestra members who visited Virginia Beach experienced a gap in the societal-time continuum and accessed real, transcendental LIFE through nearly perfect Communication. To some of you, that may sound overly Romantic, and I would agree with you that Romanticism has no place in the communication form called “Language,” which is the type of communication you and I and Mr. Hensil are all engaged in. But my goal in using Language right now is to approximate another form of communication, MUSIC, an impossible task, as communication forms are like spatial dimensions and cannot directly describe each other; someone in the third dimension, for example, cannot image the fourth. The only way to experience what we experienced would be to participate in the clinic with us, which is, to everyone’s extreme misfortune, impossible.
Mr. Hensil took us to meet Stephen Melillo in part to expose us to the full force of Communication. Melillo lives MUSIC. Unlike Language, which uses a long string of words to try to approximate a single idea, MUSIC’s words are emotions, each of which explodes vibrantly outward to fill a multitude of different notions. This is the way Stephen Melillo lives his life: he communicates through intense emotion to whoever is around. His passion for what he is doing is palpable. His energy is infectious; every single person in the room was consumed and propelled by it, making it the first of many wonders of the afternoon and evening. This energy derived from an uncommon belief, namely that preparing for reality is a contradiction. Reality is reality; there is no way to prepare for it; all methods of teaching that pretend to be somewhat real are inherently false. As Stephen Mellilo loves to say, You Can’t Fake Real. So he leapt with us up several levels of society’s “preparation” checkpoints and believed us able to play like professionals. Not advanced high school students. Not conservatory level musicians. Reality demands real MUSIC be played by professional musicians; it was that level of MUSICALITY we were expected to reach. Imagine a calculus class learning equations while repairing the Golden Gate Bridge. Imagine English students learning advanced sentence construction while reporting for Time magazine.
Every orchestra member was awestruck by not only this high expectation, but more so by Mr. Mellilo’s undying, electrifying belief that we would be able to achieve this real level of MUSICALITY. What do I mean by MUSICALLITY? It is the ultimate level of communication articulated via sound, related in passion to other forms of expression but in many ways distinct, as discussed before. Many human endeavors illicit the goosebumps moment that come with the transference of ideas—maybe if I’m lucky, some of you are getting goosebumps while listening to this—but MUSIC is the only form of communication that physically surrounds listeners and performers with waves of energy. We were surrounded in the clinic by this physical presence of the sound we were creating, all striving as one to mold it to perfection, to give it the shape necessary to rearrange the very elements of the human soul. This was our heroic task.
MUSIC is also one of the few performance forms that requires such complete camaraderie between so many people. Firstly, the person actually transferring the ideas, the conductor, is not actually participating in the production of the communication medium; he makes no sound. His power lies in inspiring other people to communicate for him. Stephen Melillo is exceedingly good at his job. In a way perhaps only possible in MUSIC making, he was able to propel his emotion and energy through us, throwing us up toward the transcendental meaning of the piece and connecting us to each other in the process.
One of the things I have learned in Orchestra is that there is nearly nothing more fulfilling than the connections created with other members of the Orchestra while playing MUSIC. Souls shine through eyes, windows to the immortal across stands, scrolls, and bows. Every person experienced this, from the section leaders to the back of the sections. The full impact of the moment did not discriminate; it permeated every person equally and gave the orchestra unconquerable momentum from the back of the sections to the front.
And because the person who was the catalyst for this expression was someone who exists in environments of intense creativity and passion on a frequent basis and unlike many, many people, will settle for nothing less, he lifted us to his plane of professional ARTistry as almost no one else can. This instantaneous transport to a level of real connection and life, a level that makes normal existence seem pale and rote, was perhaps the most overawing facet of the clinic. And also the most important. For not only were we able to express ourselves in a professional, extremely Real way, exchanging thoughts and emotions fluidly with each other’s minds and souls, but we caught a glimpse of what a passionate, inspired life can be.
Even for those of us who do not plan on being professional musicians, watching and participating in the joy of this overtly fulfilled man doing the thing he loves most showed us more than any other class what the purpose of life should be. No matter what form of Communication we decide to pursue—in other words, no matter what “major” we study in college—this clinic taught us that Reality—passionate, inspired, Reality—must be the goal of life. Accepting society’s limitations on Real passion, and, what’s worse, enforcing our own limitations is not a path to accessing Life. New relationships, new stories, and new paths to Reality: this is what Stephen Melillo gave us, and as a soon-to-be graduate who took all the quote unquote “best courses” offered, those are experiences and lessons more important and completely absent from anything else one can learn.