Music Is My Weapon

Cowell, Henry

  • Henry Cowell describes his belief in music as a medium through which a composer may communicate a humanizing philosophy to others, and states his beliefs in the Golden Rule, equality, indvidualism, freedom, and the responsibility to behave ethically in exchange for participation in society. Contains a short advertisement for This I Believe book (this essay included in the book).
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Henry Cowell, one of America’s leading composers, began his career as a professional musician in 1913 at the age of 16. Since then, he has written 11 symphonies, as well as a number of shorter works. He has also taught at many leading colleges and universities and done much for the cause of good music throughout the world. Here is Henry Cowell’s creed.
I believe in music: its spirituality, its exaltation, its ecstatic nobility, its humor, its power to penetrate to the basic fineness of every human being. As a creator of music, I contribute my religious, philosophical, and ethical beliefs in terms of the world of creative sound—that sound which flows through the mind of the composer with a concentrated intensity that baffles description; the sound which is the very life of the composer and which is the sum and substance of his faith and feeling.
When he offers a composition, one should remember that it is complete, concrete, and full of dynamic force in his mind and consciousness, and that a performance is only a run-through of the music for the benefit of those who listen—those who the composer hopes will respond.
Yet, this presentation will, if successful, so impregnate the listener with the philosophy of the composer that it is shared both in the realm of feeling and that of intelligence.
Since I am more used to expressing ideas in music than in words, I find that the latter seem inadequate and do not have the drive, positiveness, and persuasiveness that I should hope for in a musical presentation. But here are what words I have.
My belief is that the Golden Rule is the supreme guide in human relations. I do not believe that any race or people is better or worse than any other. I believe that each human being should have the liberty to be an individual, and that everyone who wins the right to act in his own way must—in return to society—behave ethically.
I used to be almost totally uninterested in politics, but it becomes increasingly clear to me that ethical individualism cannot flourish under radically extreme political conditions. Thus, I abhor communism, under which individualism is impossible and expression of liberal thought is punishable. And I abhor its right wing counterpart, under which innocent liberals fear persecution and reprisals of various sorts if they express their sincere ideas for the betterment of the government.
My own belief is in a regard for individual rights according to the letter and the spirit of the United States Constitution.
This I fight for by creating music, which I hope will reach and touch all those who listen so that they will be, thereby, encouraged to behave according to their own highest possibilities.
Unexpected inner response to the power of music dedicated to human integrity might reach dictators more easily than an atom bomb. In any event, I believe that a truly devoted musical work acts to humanize the behavior of all hearers who allow it to penetrate to their innermost being. This is why I am a composer.
Those were the personal beliefs of Henry Cowell. They were chosen from the beliefs broadcast in the past two years for inclusion in the new This I Believe Book, now at your bookstore.