[VIEWPOINT] Turning an Urge into Inspiration

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[VIEWPOINT] Turning an Urge into Inspiration

Changing Our Life for Better, Inspired by the Inexplicable Urges We Somehow Get


I have loved music since early childhood. This love is as strong as ever and, today, I am transported whenever I hear beautiful music.

I was quite young and absorbed in music when my teacher played a piece one day and said Beethoven wrote it after a sudden inspiration came to him as he was walking through the woods in Vienna. The word "inspiration" somehow struck a deep chord and stayed with me.

From then on, I began to wander aimlessly through a small park in my village, hoping to be inspired as Beethoven had been. I waited. Nothing happened. I did not receive anything remotely resembling an inspiration.

Next, I studied a picture of Beethoven in one of my music books, which showed him walking, slightly bent, with his hands clasped behind his back.

I then tried to walk just like Beethoven, hoping it might help in having an inspiration.

It was another futile endeavor. For me, the word "inspiration" conjured up an exotic world full of mystery and I was burning with curiosity to experience what it was really like.

No one helped or offered me an answer about the true nature of the inspiration. In the end, I had to give up the hopeless attempts to be inspired and instead began to concentrate on playing the piano again.

I had no piano at home and had to snatch minutes of practice at any piano I was lucky enough to find.

One day I had a chance to practice the piano in a church. I wanted to cram in as much practice as possible, and so I decided to skip a meal to continue practicing. I finally began to doze in front of the piano, overcome by hunger and exhaustion. My hands were still posed over the keys, however.

I was suddenly startled out of my sleep at the sounds of mi-re-do, which seemed to be coming out of nowhere.

"Ah, so this is what an inspiration is!"

Don't ask me why, but in my half-asleep state, I some- how, suddenly, felt I was hearing the notes in a flash of musical inspiration, an inspiration out of the blue. But what actually happened was that I had moved slightly as I dozed, causing my fingers to move and press down on the keys.

Anyway, I cannot describe the great shock the three notes gave me. I soon developed a habit of deliberately trying to fall asleep in front of the piano. Placing my hands above the keys, I would pretend I was asleep. Eyes half-closed, I would press down on the keys, as if quite by accident: mi-re-do. I would also vary the combinations, do-re-mi, mi-mi-do, and so forth.

I sometimes even had the illusion that I was hearing thousands of different tunes coming from afar.

Some of the notes and chords I found pleasing, and some I did not like at all. Out of this grew a conviction: I had my own musical heart. I was able to clearly distinguish what I liked and did not like from the music I produced on the piano, even though I might not have been musically inspired. The moment I realized this and also felt certain that it signaled a musical mind, I began to prefer spending the time trying to fall asleep in front of the piano to playing it.

Years later when I went to the United States for further musical studies, I had a chance to listen to a lecture by the famous composer Aaron Copland. During the lecture, he talked about how there's no inspiration, only an urge.

To summarize what he said, there are moments when every person somehow, suddenly, feels an urge to do something. We somehow, suddenly, recall a long-forgotten friend. We somehow, suddenly, feel an urge to write a letter. We somehow, suddenly, feel an urge to write music.

We all have moments like these, Mr. Copland said, when we somehow feel an urge for something. They are actually moments of inspiration, if only we realized it. Each of us perceives these inexplicable urges differently, however, and only some of us succeed in grasping their possibilities for development, and turn the urges into an inspiration.

It will soon be a new year. I am sure we all are filled with a great deal of trepidation as we wonder if it is going to be a better or worse year.

I am praying for inspirations that will enrich our lives and culture. I hope all our hearts will somehow be filled with an inexplicable feeling that all the problems in our country will be resolved next year. I also hope that we all will be capable and cultured enough to turn that feeling into an inspiration.

Just as a great artist transforms an inexplicable urge into an inspiration to produce a masterpiece, I hope our lives will change for the better beginning next year, inspired by the indefinable urges we somehow get.

The writer is the president of the Korean National University of Arts.
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