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A Reader Writes by Anthony Longoria: A continuing reason for the arts

May 06, 2002

The walls of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music have a kind of history that I've never encountered before. Though repainted several times since they were built, the walls still look tired, worn from the endless hours of practice sessions they have endured over the last several decades.

It is well past 8 p.m. and I'm stuck in a practice room struggling to apply to my singing what I had learned two days before in my lesson. The walls have, no doubt, heard this struggle before.

The life of a conservatory student is one filled with solitude. At orientation we were warned of this fact — and eagerly encouraged to take advantage of the city's cultural cornucopia to combat it — but in solitude, there is silence. And I have learned that silence — in music — is equally important as sound.

The conservatory is a world apart from my previous attempt at college. Talent, talent that can seem intimidating at times, surrounds me. Talented teachers. Talented musicians. The experience is intense. And while no competition among students really exists — at least in my experience — the standards I have placed on myself have, I am happy to report, been met with conviction.

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Music is hard. And therein lies the challenge. While easy and accessible to listen to, I never imagined music was so difficult to produce. And even more difficult to understand. The acquisition of new knowledge, both musical and academic, seems the only thing that grounds me. A voracious pursuit to discover new things; a newfound love of learning. This pursuit of acquisition — which I'm sure will delight many of my former teachers — along with practice, creates the pulse of my studies here.

As seductive and fulfilling as the study of music and the arts are, I must admit, that given the warfare and political climate in the world, I feel guilty. Guilty that I take delight in studying music. Guilty that I continue to pursue knowledge when there is suffering, disease, war, famine, murder and other horrors that plague the world. My pursuit seems selfish. But then, I am reminded that there will always be suffering, scourges that plague our worldly citizenship. And I am also reminded that there will always be music. Literature. Art. Knowledge.

Without the arts, we have no way of life. Our ability to study and understand the human soul and condition, I feel, gives us permission to continue this pursuit of the arts, of knowledge. With art comes healing, reconciliation. And understanding of something beyond the grasps of those who wish to harm their fellow man.

This is my hope: that knowledge will overcome our transgressions, our pain, our suffering, our disease, our war, our famine, our plagues. That my pursuit is not bred of vanity. That I might be able to pass along my knowledge — everything I have learned and will learn — and share it with the generation after me. That my pursuit of knowledge and the arts will somehow combat our plagues, make a difference in my world.

The wall in my practice room suffers from a fresh layer of paint, institutional white. It is a rebirth for the wall since it's former skin had been peeling for, I imagine, at least a few semesters.

And then it hits me. An image of the wall long after I've graduated and the conservatory has moved into its new building, long after the building has been abandoned or reincarnated into a new school. Somewhere stuck inside is the music that I made in this room, and the music everyone else made before me.

>> ANTHONY LONGORIA, a graduate of Southwest High School in El Centro, is studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

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