Merlijn Twaalfhoven, composer of his own story

His website welcomes you with an appeal: ‘With imagination, beauty and creativity, we can tackle world problems. Are you in?’ It would be unthinkable to exclude composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven from the list of speakers at CWF2019. And he will certainly be there on October 23rd. The subject of his talk? Heroism!

Merlijn is someone who likes to compose his own story; in notes and in words. This article is (almost) a verbatim reproduction of a spoken message:

In the past, everything had a soul, a spirit, God was everywhere.

“I grew up surrounded by nature, in the countryside. My parents were musicians, so I occupied myself with nature and music. I studied music and played in orchestras. It was a wonderful experience to be in the middle of all that music. At the conservatory, I was introduced to composing. That’s a marvellous way to tell your own story. As a composer, I spend less time in concert halls and more in the outside world, experiencing all sorts of places. How can music intensify the experience of a place? And how can you connect people to that? I also find it very important to do this precisely in difficult places; in conflict areas, in refugee camps. Such as Jerusalem, on the West Bank, in Palestine. So that music can break through certain rigid, immovable structures in society.”

Slaying the dragon

“My talk is about ‘practical heroism’. In this time, we face great challenges, great dangers. I believe that this time needs heroes. When I think of heroes, I think of people slaying a dragon. In this day and age, the dragon is difficult to see, because we are dealing with wicked problems, complex problems. It’s different to when an enemy attacks your country. That’s a clear enemy, you know who you have to fight. But these days climate change, growing inequality, the role of technology are things to which we ourselves contribute. Not things we can fight externally, as you do with a physical threat. So, the heroism that is desperately needed today is very difficult to define. That’s actually the nature of my quest and what I want to share: what does it take in your own life to become a hero yourself? It goes further than separating waste, voting democratically or doing your civic duty. It’s really about stepping into the unknown and doing so driven by ideals. You can’t have those ideals until you feel truly connected to something. Until you love something, want to fight for something.”

Being connected

“I get the feeling that we have lost the ability to love the world and therefore to love nature, to feel connected, to the planet, that we have lost that ability. This is due to a few centuries of rationalisation, enlightened thinking and becoming detached from certain great values, all of which used to be interconnected. In the past, everything had a soul, a spirit, God was everywhere. It was obvious that everything was interconnected. Now we look at the world from a distance and through technology as a place in which we have to find our own way, individually and independently. Well, that’s a big misunderstanding! We do not exist only as individuals. We are social creatures. How do we experience this in a time with empty churches, increasingly fleeting occupations and endless mobility?”

Artists are the practical heroes of our time.

“The engagement, especially the beauty, that’s exactly what art is all about. Artists are fascinated and amazed by the world around them. They see beauty where others do not. And they also play with that world, challenge it, experiment with it. They allow things to fail, and so on. For them, not everything always has to be effective either, to have a function. Things can simply be what they are. There’s room for mysteries, room for just not knowing or the structural inability to know.

The artist mindset

“I see this artist mindset as essential if you want to connect with the world. If you want to enter into a relationship with nature, with the beauty of that nature. Artists are the practical heroes of our time. People who translate problems into big ideals, into things you love and things that are beautiful. People who develop practical ways to experience that connection with the world. Art is always an experience. There are many abstract things in our lives. Many concepts, from money to poverty and from nature to climate change. We can all talk about them but an artist knows how to make you experience them. And that makes art very practical. Experiencing beauty, the richness, fascination and also the mystery of life is a very important key to actually getting involved with the big, wicked problems. In seeing your own role. And in finding clues in all the uncertainty involved in today’s world, which enable you to make your way forward. An artist mindset provides navigation tools to move forward through uncertainty.

I see the artist mindset as the prerequisite for great change.

Everyone has the potential to adopt that artist mindset. It’s my mission to get people to realise and experience this. So they can then work on their own questions like ‘What touches me?’, ‘What do I want to fight for?’ and ‘What am I prepared to sacrifice?’ ‘Am I willing to sacrifice something for a greater ideal?’ That’s the heroism required of us as human beings today. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that we make a change as a society towards a sustainable and connected and just world. And I see that the current approach, through politics, activism and smart technology, is very limited. Because that connection is often not apparent. By definition, politics must be confrontational. I believe that we can only achieve change if we trust each other, if we see that, as a society, we can make that change. Because only with that trust can we accept a sacrifice. That’s why I see this artist mindset as the prerequisite for great change.”

Art is always an experience.

Beauty and love

“I stand for the belief that the world is wonderful and special and unique. It is truly absurd how we have built a society that actually ignores this. A society that is obsessed with personal success and all kinds of social hypes. But which has completely lost sight of how incredibly beautiful our planet is and how incredibly quickly it is deteriorating. So, I stand for beauty and therefore for optimism and the love of life. I’m currently building The Turn Club. This is a club where anyone who has an artist mindset and wants to work on sustainable development is welcome. From a larger collective, we can give lots of projects the space they need to really move forward. And that’s a structural requirement for all Sustainable Development Goals.”

Meet Merlijn Twaalfhoven at day 3 in Eindhoven >

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