Focus

When I put the place holder for this post in my blog, I thought I was going to talk about how wonderful Loreena McKennett was in concert (she was) and how much I love her music (I do) and that she played my favorite song (she didn’t, but she played lots of other great music, so I don’t feel like I missed anything).

Paramount, empty stage prior to Loreena McKennett concert.

The Paramount is my favorite venue because it’s such an intimate setting. Even the “true fan section” (read: cheap seats) isn’t too far from the stage to see the artists. 

There are no jumbotrons. There is no need. You can see clearly from all but about two seats in the house near the wings. I’ve heard people sing here without microphones because the acoustics are that good. This house was made for opera and has been restored to the grand dame she was intended to be from the start.

I was the most excited I’ve been for a concert in a very long time. I snapped my traditional (well, traditional since I got a phone with a camera in it) pre-concert photo, set my phone to airplane mode, and dropped it into my purse. I came to focus on the concert. I came to BE at the concert and see it with my own eyes, not through the lense of my phone’s camera. I wanted to be an active presence in the concert and to do that, I edited out my distractions.

If you can say a concert had a theme, that was the theme of the concert: Focus.

From the people filming in the audience and the intrusive (but necessary) reminders that filming is prohibited, to Loreena’s own comments on the increasing lack of focus in society due to the proliferation of electronic devices in our lives and how that is affecting children, to her comments on her own creative process, focus came up again and again.

There’s some research that suggests that technology has already made memory into emphemera. At the very least, it’s changed the way we remember. In that light, that there’s a lingering interest in oral tradition and long memory in the age of Googling for answers is almost a curiosity from a prior age that some might suggest has outlived its usefulness. Why remember? Isn’t that what Google is for? 

Some people think that statement is proof that technology is ruining people’s ability to focus. I’m not sure that’s true, though.

The number of times I’ve said “I don’t know the answer, but I know where to find it,” is kind of astounding when I think about it, but I said it before I ever knew what the Internet was. Back then (you know, when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I was talking about books in the public library, or sometimes people I knew who were more interested in a particular topic than I was. I focused on what I found interesting and remembered either where I read something or who was interested in a particular thing, rather than the thing itself.

In Loreena’s case, she’s chosen to focus her art and her studies on the Celtics peoples of the world. It’s shaped her music, her musings and her poetry, and I would even go so far as to suggest that her active connection to the ancient Celtic world shapes her perceptions of technology and her relationship with it. The Celts have a deep oral tradition, a tradition of long memory.

She took the time in her concert not just to talk about where particular songs came from and her experiences traveling to study the Celts, but about how she sees technology changing the world and why she chooses to focus her art on preserving and adding to the oral traditions of the Celts. It seems an important sort of work. The stories we tell and how we tell them that makes sense out of the world. 

The details we find important enough to put in and the things we leave out either because we don’t recognize the significance, or choose to consciously edit our narrative, or simply have forgotten, are the beams we use to frame the story we’re trying to tell, whether that story with words or with other art forms. 

What do we let in? What do we choose to leave out? How do we focus? How does that affect our relationship with the world, our friends and loved ones, and our art?
I’m still struggling with those questions.

Comments go here