The Great Beacon-Fires

This post was inspired by Stravinsky’s Poetics of Music Lesson Three – Musical Typology (Amazon affiliate link)

Beacon-fires are people who emit or emitted vast culture bubbles. In discussing Mozart and Haydn, Stravinsky explains:

“One may say that the masters, who in all their greatness surpass the generality of their contemporaries, send out the rays of their genius well beyond their own day.  In this way they appear as powerful signal-fires – as beacons, to use Baudelaire’s expression – by whose light and warmth is developed a sum of tendencies that will be shared by most of their successors and that contributes to form the parcel of traditions which make up a culture.”

I agree with what Stravinsky is saying, but the reasoning behind what ‘makes up culture’ is imbalanced. There’s a significant piece missing here.

I often ask myself: Which pianist had more influence on me, Oscar Peterson or Brian Dickinson?

OP was the international superstar.  BD was (and is) one of my local heroes. I only saw OP perform twice; I saw BD perform all the time in local clubs.  I listened to both pianists’ records obsessively and tried imitating them. I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without these two pianists.

Only OP would be considered a true beacon-fire.  BD gets pushed aside.  This is where Stravinsky’s reasoning is lacking. In continuing with the analogy, OP’s “rays of genius” may travel longer distances, but BD’s are more focused and concentrated.  This is what makes culture!

Local heroes are generally under-acknowledged. Below is a list of local artists who had a significant impact on me.  I saw them perform regularly as a teenager in Toronto.  I’m grateful; they blew me away every time!

Doesn’t it make you wonder who really influenced Mozart and Haydn?

What does your list look like?





  • Jim Lewis
  • John MacLeod
  • Kevin Turcotte



Further reading: Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish (Link).  This is cultural evolution right before our eyes.  Does the idea of beacon-fires apply here?

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