Mentors from beyond the grave

9 01 2005

Can you have a mentor that you have never met or spoken to? Can your mentor be someone from the past?- Stravinsky, Ives, Mahler, Adams? (influence of sound, image and written text)

I was thinking, can you consider someone a mentor even if you have never met them or talked to them? Can they be considered a mentor even if they died before you were born? I was thinking about this when I started to consider who my mentors were.

A mentor is one that can set examples and helps you to be who you are today. Often, we acquire specific traits from our mentors. A mentor who plans with great detail will model that and that trait may get picked up by the one being mentored. A person that serves as a mentor in teaching will model quality teaching (or at least a style of teaching) that the mentee would most likely adapt. In each of these cases, the person doing the mentoring is alive and interacting directly with the one being mentored.

So what about a person that has made a huge impact in a particular discipline leaving behind a huge body of work that can be studied for many generations? Can this persons work serve as a mentor to generations to come?

Reflecting on this I would have to say yes. The personal examples that come to mind are the bodies of work left by Ansel Adams, Bach and Igor Stravinsky. As a classical musician, I have studied many musicians. All musicians study Bach as music theory is often seen as a study of the perfection of Bach’s writing. He seemed to have a natural way of making things sound good and by studying what Bach did, we can understand the theory behind music. I studied large amounts of Bach I my days. However, I would not say that he was a mentor in my life. This is not because I never met him (lived in the early 1700’s) but because I did not form an affinity with him. His work is beautiful and I really enjoy playing his music but his work did not really become a part of me.

Stravinsky on the other hand is a little different. Stravinsky’s body of work is one that I absorbed. I could never get enough of his music. His ability to play with tonality and rhythm, the sounds he got by mixing instruments in orchestrations, he was a master. I found that as I studied music and developed my ear for music, I could hear and see Stravinsky. I was a baby when he died and never met the man. However, his music was alive in my heart and I changed because of him. His body of work helped to shape who I am as a musician. As I listen to Stravinsky, I can’t help but be drawn into the world of analysis- how does he get that sound? Stravinsky was a mentor in my developing a personal style of writing, orchestration and interpretation.

Another area that is personal to me is my experience with the body of work left by Ansel Adams. He was a master of the negative and print. I have always been moved by his prints and have enjoyed much of his writing on the subject of photography. At times, I feel like I know the man. Yet, I have never met him. His work however is very much alive to me. I can spend hours looking at his compositions and print qualities and again I find myself asking, what makes this so great? How can I improve so that I can be more like him? While I am no Ansel Adams, I do feel a great affinity to his body of work and thus the man. My love in photography is landscapes and I am always looking for the perfect light and the other view. Adams was a master and had a great effect on my style and philosophy as a photographer. Adams was a mentor to my through his body of work.

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