Have you heard about Watson? Watson is the gigantic IBM computer which recently bested the two human champions of the TV game show“Jeopardy”. This result was expected but deflating, as it conjured for me an unwelcome scenario of a world where we irrelevant humans just sit around sipping cool lemonade now that we have created computers that are smarter than we are. Are we doomed to stumble along in the intellectual dust of technology? Is there something computers can’t ever do?
A recent Associated Press article entitled “Machines Beat Us At Our Own Game” notes that “What humans have that [computers] do not have and will not get is the sort of thing that makes song, romance, smiles, sadness and all that jazz. It’s something the experts in computers, robotics and artificial intelligence know very well because they can’t figure out how it works in people, much less duplicate it. It’s that indescribable essence of humanity.”
“That indescribable essence of humanity” is what is given expression in music. George Lillo (1693-1739) noted “There’s sure no passion in the human soul, but finds its food in music.” As a musician and music teacher, I must frequently remind myself and my students that “accuracy” (the forte of artificial intelligence) should not trump emotional communication. Of course accuracy is important, but perfection is not required in order for music to elevate a mood or stimulate a tear. What is required is for the performer to have something to say musically to which the listener can respond
This happened at a recent lesson with 10-year-old Cora who, despite a couple of rhythmic inaccuracies, wowed me with her expressive performance of “March of the Trolls” by David Kraehenbuehl. When she had finished I told her how I loved her performance. I asked what she was thinking about while she played, and she proceeded to narrate a complete story that the piece suggests to her. She agreed to perform the piece in next week’s group performance class and afterward we will invite the class to share any thoughts that her performance inspires in them. “I’ll bet they will see trolls, but they may not be the same as mine,” she admitted. Maybe not the same, but there will definitely be some of Cora’s soul trolls in the room!
In my zealous quest for student accuracy and technique, I must remember that the magic of musical communication occurs when there is a human soul with something to say, but not necessarily when the rhythm is perfectly accurate. My reminders to “Remember the F#,” may help accuracy, but they don’t inspire the connection and joy that can occur when a student is “grooving” so that a musical message is being sent and received! So Watson may be smart, but can neither create nor communicate like a human with soul.