Saturday, May 06, 2006


When I was 18 I decided not to go to a conservatory because I worried I wouldn't be able to read books and learn languages and argue about politics and write novels. Of course this is crazy, but that's what I thought at the time.

I often wonder how things might have turned out if I had gone that alternate route. I wonder if I'd be happier because I'd be making music all of the time. I know this is also crazy, because as in any art or profession, the joy only comes about half the time. I don't think I would have had an illustrious performance career, only because I know how difficult it is for women pianists to succeed. So much depends upon winning competitions and the world of classical music is still sexist and makes judgments based on appearance and marketability.

Not that I wouldn't succeed based on my appearance, but I wouldn't want to.

I still play, though this year has been very difficult for me without my own piano. My grand piano currently resides 1000 miles away in my parents' living room. I won't let them send it to me until I'm settled enough to buy a house, which may be as early as next year or as late as 5 years from now. I prefer chamber music -- especially the Beethoven piano trios. For solo performance, nothing compares to Bach, late Beethoven, and Schubert. It's funny that my musical sensibility is so 18th and 19th century, when my work is much earlier.

Something happens to me when I am playing. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it's transcendent. I lose myself in the music. Something comes over me and it's like I am the instrument and the music is speaking through me. It only seems to happen with an audience. And when it does, it is sublime. And a little scary. My mother told me once that she'd never seen me transform so much as when I played. I think it was a little frightening for her at first, because I was so little when it started happening. It was like I disappeared into the music, became sort of possessed, filled with it until it spilled out.

I miss that. I don't think there is any other activity that produces such a sensation (not even sex). Writing, whether academic or artistic, doesn't do it for me. Writing for me is agony, interspersed now and then with moments of excitement and discovery that somehow dull the pain and frustration enough to keep on going. It's closer to practicing. Teaching can have uplifting moments, but it would be impossible (and reprehensible) to surrender myself to it enough to erase my sense of self. And of course I don't think I'd be able to. Or want to.

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