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It’s been a few years since I last wrote this column. I hope I’m welcome back. In case you missed it those years ago, I would take this space to ramble on about a variety of musical subjects. I’d like to think I might entertain and maybe enlighten with this space — enlighten and entertain myself, if no one else!

Helena has been proclaimed one of the “100 Best Small Art Towns in America!” We can be proud of that, and we would be wise to cultivate that aspect of our community lifestyle. The arts are really an indispensable part of the very fabric of many civilizations around the world.

We seem to be in danger in this country of relegating arts to the bottom of our priority lists. Music and arts too often come in far behind the time and budget we devote to business, sports, social media and the like. When we put the arts ever lower in our considerations of what we do with our time and money, we lose out on a part of our humanity that is too subtle for quantification, irreplaceable with anything else, and so spiritually rich that it is thought-provoking, healing, uniting, clarifying, inspiring and uplifting.

So, I hope than anybody reading this column stops for just a moment to think about how vital and important our arts community really is.

In this space I’ll explore musical subjects, mostly, as that’s what I’m most familiar with. I’d hope others involved in different aspects of art might read this and think that they, too, should write about their specific arts and enrich our appreciation.

Since I last left off on this column, I’ve entered a fairly fast track in piano service. Besides a growing business in Montana, I’ve found myself involved at the national level as well. In these pursuits I note that musical involvement on the whole and piano playing in particular is, sadly, declining.

At the turn of the 20th century, nine out of 10 people played a musical instrument. The music you heard was created live more than it was recorded, even on radio broadcasts. They didn’t have record players (for those of you who remember them), much less iPods or other media players in every pocket way back then. Music pretty much HAD to be played live. Then, recently, at the turn of the 21st century, only one out of nine people played a musical instrument. What a sad loss for us!

What good is learning to play an instrument when we can get all of the music we want by simply touching our phone? Why would you spend all of that time practicing and learning how to play music when you can make your computer/tablet/phone and an app create it instantly? My answer is manifold.

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First, in the case of children, learning to play an instrument well takes a great deal of dedication and persistence. Parents, wouldn’t you wish to raise a child with these character traits? Music study demonstrates what it takes to create excellence. True excellence, that is excelling at something rather than being average, doesn’t come easily or instantly in any endeavor. It is important to know what it really takes.

Second, music promotes development of the whole person: mind, body and soul. It requires physical skills. It requires learning to listen closely. It requires teamwork and social skills to play well with others. It requires math skills to decipher notation and understand music theory and application. It promotes getting in touch with your soul to play with great emotion and communication.

Third, it is a pursuit with all winners. By that I mean — compared to sports — nobody goes home thinking they lost, neither players nor audience members. Nobody sits on the bench. Everybody gets to play. And very few school musicians suffer for a lifetime with nagging physical injuries.

Fourth, it is a lifetime pursuit that never needs to end. We can always be involved, either playing just for ourselves or with others. We can play on a grand scale, such as with our highly esteemed and nationally recognized local symphony, or on a smaller informal scale with friends around a campfire. Such a spectrum of opportunity is always available and always soul-nourishing.

John Dorr is a local piano technician and private music instructor. He can be reached at


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