If you have a taste for sake, you may have wondered why it's served in such tiny portions. Shouldn't all good things come in hearty quantities? Like a giant mug of hot cocoa, topped with a heaping Olympia of whipped cream? A good pint of English ale should surely be capped to the rim with pearly foam, and so on so forth. But with sake, one serving is never enough to satisfy even the most modest partaker, amounting roughly to a shot of table wine.
The reason is simple and, I think, beautiful. The ritual of sake drinking is not about my experience, but about your experience. Serving sake to myself would be considered a rude and selfish gesture, and the small cups allow friends to continuously serve one another throughout the night. To pour sake is to honor friendship and celebrate the joy of looking after one another.
In many circumstances in life, I'm the first to admit that I often neglect my neighbors, and likewise to refuse their helping hands. In the American culture of rugged individualism, this kind of self-sufficiency is often praised. But I've been increasing disappointed by this self-service culture, because too often it legitimizes ego centricity and marginalizes trust, even at the subsurface level.
The idea of fulfillment through giving is nothing original and groundbreaking, but I do have a difficult time acting upon my own principals. It's easy to claim credit for success and tempting to shirk responsibility for failure. Ultimately, I narrate and navigate situations as if I am pouring the sake for myself. Sure, I may get a good amount of sake. But at the end of the day, I'm also left with the inevitable emptiness of having served myself over my friends.
In art, too, I'm increasingly impatient towards works that are clearly not meant for the viewer/audience, but for the artist's self image. How do I expect anyone's precious time and attention if my art is intended for my own sense of intellectual validation and psycho-fulfillment? While seemingly basic and obvious in principle, this notion is difficult in practice; especially in a climate of high pressure and competition, it's frustratingly tempting to flaunt one's technical and intellectual abilities and outsmart the audience in order to mask our own insecurities. As a composer I've certainly find myself putting my individualism on a pedestal while neglecting the experience of my neighbors.
The kind of art that resonates with me is much like the Way of the Sake: a ritual celebration of the human-to-human trust, sharing those simple and profound moments in life that are truly worth sharing. Good music, theatre, painting - and what have you - make me feel that reverberation between myself and others. The object itself is only of interest to me in the sense of craftsmanship; the quality of sake no doubt affects the enjoyment of the moment, just as much as the technical craftsmanship of the artwork. But to me, what gives creation its ultimate meaning is the immeasurable pleasure of sharing our time, space, and (most importantly) experience with others.
I am not advocating for any radical abandonment of individualism and style. Self-mpowerment is beautiful and admirable. But so often, I do feel a lack of human communion in moments of art-making. For this, I would like to raise the glass and propose amends, to honor and celebrate those at the table and to serve them proudly through art.