Once upon a time there were three little pigs. They lived contentedly with their mother, but the time came for them to leave home and seek their fortunes out in the big, wide world. Before they left, their mother told them, “Whatever you do , do it the best that you can because that’s the way to get along in the world.”
The first little pig built his house out of straw that he found by the wayside because it was the easiest and quickest thing to do. He could then dedicate most of his time to relaxing with his friends and watching TV.
The second little pig built his house out of sticks. This took more effort because twigs are a little harder to find and aren’t so easy to join together. The house was a little stronger than the straw house, and the longer construction time didn’t leave the pig with as much time for relaxation and TV watching, but he was proud of his handiwork.
The third little pig built his house out of bricks. As you know, it takes a certain amount of nous to lay bricks correctly, to line them up nice and straight and to get the corners just right. It also takes a lot of skill and patience to make bricks in the first place, involving mixing, pressing and firing. The first two pigs thought he was a fool for choosing the most difficult and most expensive option. All that education and expertise; it just seemed so time-consuming, so old-fashioned and so unnecessary, and would leave so little time for relaxation and socializing! They mocked him for being so ‘square’ and so out-of-touch with the hip trends in modern home design. It might get him a house, but an old-fashioned and friendless one!
One night the big bad wolf, who dearly loved to eat fat little piggies, came along and saw the first little pig in his house of straw. He said “Let me in, let me in, little pig, or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!”
“Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin”, said the little pig.
But of course the wolf huffed and he puffed and he blew the house in. The first little pig ran to shelter with his brother in the house of sticks, wiggling his tail hysterically all the way.
The wolf then came to the house of sticks.
“Let me in, let me in little pig or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in.” “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” said the little pig. But the wolf blew that house in too! The two little pigs went squealing to their brother’s house.
The wolf then came to the house of bricks.
“Let me in , let me in,” cried the wolf “or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in.”
“Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” said the pig who had made the brick house.
Well, the wolf huffed and puffed but he could not blow down that brick house.
The wolf was a sly old wolf and he climbed up on the roof to look for a way into the brick house. The little pig saw the wolf climb up on the roof and lit a roaring fire in the fireplace and placed on it a large kettle of water. When the wolf found the chimney he crawled down and dropped KERSPLASH! right into that kettle of boiling water. That was the end of the pigs’ troubles with the big bad wolf.
To celebrate, the little pigs invited their mother over for dinner. She said “You see it is just as I told you. The way to get along in the world is to do things as well as you can.” They all learned that lesson and they lived happily ever after!
The Northern European Protestant work ethic shines through the plain message of this parable; it is a fool who thinks that there is a speedy way to a sturdy house. Whatever discipline you follow, you’re going to need to learn a technique, serve an apprenticeship and pay your dues. There is no back door to mastering your craft.
Of all nursery tales, this one was particularly meaningful to me. The notion that focused study might be mocked by the trendsters was an unhappy one, but that would only be for the short-term. I was a bookish boy, committed to an indoor existence and an interior life, always reading and listening and absorbing and asking questions. Knowing that the child who studied hard and worked diligently would end up being able to provide for his ne’er-do-well family filled me with gleeful anticipation. Later, when I applied the story of the Three Little Pigs to affairs of the heart, which were usually sacrificed to more bookish pursuits, that those pea-brain piglets would be imperiled by their own short-sighted folly filled me with adolescent self-satisfaction. When the time came for Piston Harmony and Jeppesen Counterpoint exercises in my university days, I totally understood the agony and the frustration and welcomed the brain-ache, knowing that the art of musical brick-making and brick-laying would eventually be mine to command, even if it meant sacrificing a summer vacation to hours of extra study.
So what about the current state of music education? The Establishment has shifted focus away from Functional Harmony and Species Counterpoint towards a more confessional and invertebrate self-expression. When straw design is all the rage, what is a ‘sturdy house’ for a composition student? Most of what I hear coming out of the Academy these days is flimsily self-referential, ill-constructed and so free form that it would not stand up to a stiff breeze, yet the call rings out for “more,” “longer,” and “bigger.” The Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs and sends everything flying, and then says, “That was wonderful, now how about something in a concerto?”
The cocktail conversation in the straw and stick houses can only be short-lived; it is a transient experience with which Art is not concerned. Brick however is made of the stuff that survives fire and is the only one of the three houses that provides a hearth. The security and community around the dining table in the house of brick is what endures.