Archive for December 29th, 2006

We hold these truths

There is a blog written by a rather wise man who bills himself as a curmudgeon that I love to visit.  If you go to Archie’s Archive , and look on the right side, he has posted a long list of “Things that I have learned.”

I admire the idea, and considered copying it.   I may do so in the future, but I would not want to be accused of plagiarism.  Besides, I’m not sure that it is my style to put up lists.  Many of the things that Archie has learned are things that I have learned also.  Many of them came through bitter experience, accompanied by tears and lamentations, anger and fear. 

One of the things Archie has learned resonates so very strongly with my experience that I have actually formulated a Life Rule that relates to it.  Archie’s version:  “I’ve learned that you should never tell a child their dreams are unlikely or outlandish. Few things are more humiliating, and what a tragedy it would be if they believed it”  My version:  “Never tell a child they can not make a living doing what they love, especially if it is in the arts.

I was reminded of this rule the other day when Sam the Piano Man came to tune my wonderful piano.   A couple of decades ago when P. and I divorced, I received a property settlement. I was very good a frittering money away, and I didn’t want to just see that money evaporate.  One of the things I invested it in was a fine piano. 

I have always lusted after a Steinway piano, every time I have played one it seems to speak to me powerfully.  My uncle inherited a beautiful rosewood Steinway that I have always loved.  It lives in the Bay Area and should probably stay there forever since the humidity there is so beneficial to the wooden machine that it is.  In spite of the fact that I have always wished I had that piano, I would feel irresponsible to move it to a climate that would start to destroy it. 

My property settlement was not nearly enough to buy a Steinway, but what it did get me was a beautiful used Mason and Hamlin upright.  After Sam tuned it, I sat down to play it and realized that it had been far too long since I had put hands to keyboard, at least a piano keyboard.  I was very rusty indeed, and resolved to play more often in the future.

When I was a teenager, I played the piano incessantly.  It was an escape from a less than pleasant home environment.  But more than that, I loved the harmonies that came out from under my fingers.

When I was a senior in high school, I had the great fortune to study for a year with Geraldine Worcester.  She had been a student of Artur Rubenstein, and was forced to retire from her concert career by severe arthritis.  She could not play, but was a wonderful teacher who coached me, encouraged me, and cultivated my talent.

Her old teacher came to town while I was studying with her, and she took me to Mr. Rubenstein’s amazing performance one magical night.  After the concert, she took me backstage, where she was greeted warmly and embraced by the master pianist.

I stood to the side, bemused by the stature of the man who had drawn such powerful music from the piano.  On stage, he had seemed a giant, master of the huge piano.  In person, he was soft spoken, gentle, very short, very old.  After they had conversed for a short time, Mrs. Worcester drew me forward and introduced me.  She told him that she felt I had a great talent. 

He looked at me, gazed deeply into my eyes.  He said very little, but took my hands in his, and turned them back and forth, spreading my fingers and measuring my hand span.  He gave my hands back to me after a time, and told my teacher, “Her hands were made for the piano.”

Oh, she worked me hard.  I can’t tell you how many sonatas I memorized that year.  I performed in a recital almost every week.  I learned Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto.  One day at my lesson, she set up a tape recorder and made me perform for her.  A few weeks later, she told me that I had been accepted to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, if I wanted to go.  I had no idea what she was talking about. 

My parents had told me over and over again that I could not expect to make a living as a musician.  “No one makes a living at music,” they would aver.  It was stupid to even think about it, and if I brought up examples of people who DID make a living, like Heifetz or the Rolling Stones, I was contemptuously asked what made me think I was likely to be as successful?  I should figure out something to do that would earn me a good living, and I could always have music as a hobby.   This had been drummed into my head for so many years I never seriously considered being a music major, even though I loved it dearly.

So when Mrs. Worcester told me the incredible good fortune that had befallen me, my complete lack of excitement annoyed her quite a bit.   But, she assumed that my parents would understand the implications, and gave me a sheet of information to give to them.  

It was a very unsettled time on the Eastern Seaboard.  There were riots going on in many major cities.  The only caveat that Curtis had was that if I came to study there, there would need to be a safe place found for me to live.  My parents were not even remotely interested in trying to arrange for me to study piano.  I honestly do not believe that they had any more idea of the honor and prestige that winning a place at Curtis represented.  I was instructed to tell Mrs. Worcester that it was not possible to claim my place in that class.

I have no idea exactly how frustrated or angry she may have been at the incredible waste of talent that decision represented, she was far too professional to reveal that to me.  We completed the recitals that she had arranged for me to perform in.  Then she gently told me that she felt that my parent’s money would be better spent elsewhere than on piano lessons with her.

I play the piano now, and I see the remnants of a pretty fair technique there.  Who knows where I would be and what I would have achieved if I had been able to avail myself of that opportunity?  I will never know, it was many years ago and that water is long over the dam and down that river.

In spite of how much I love what I do now, and how rewarding it is for me, I cry for that loss as I write this.  That is why my policy is to never tell a talented creative person that they could never make a living doing what they love.  I never want to be the cause of such sorrow and loss for another soul.

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Well, I got sucked in by the little headline on my dashboard and went over to the site of the minute.  I keep wondering why I am never a site of the minute or a top post.  I guess it is just because I am boring and normal.  I don’t diss Britney Spears or talk about her crotch much, and I don’t run around the blogosphere looking for the best most awesome blogs out there.  Actually, I scrolled through Bigchase’s posts about the 7 insanely great blogs and asked myself what was so great about any of them.  Places to look at clothes, t-shirts, art.  So what?

And I have just about finished reading half of the book stack I got for Christmas, only I had to stop reading Amy Tan’s book “Saving Fish from Drowning” in order to read “A Spot of Bother” by Mark Haddon.  A wonderful read, dipping into the lives of a seemingly normal English family and watching every part of those lives slowly unravel as the daughter plans her second marriage.  It all comes right in the end, you know, with the final word nailing home the message that your feelings and reactions are a choice and you can decide how your life will be.  I liked it a lot.  Laughed insanely, tried to read bits to my long-suffering husband and realized as I did so that they were only funny because of the context of the book and made no sense unless you had read the previous 100 pages.  I recommend it.

It made me wonder, why do I blog?  Why do I write here?  It takes time.  I get sucked into the world wide web and read fascinating stuff and boring stuff and completely inane stuff and very wise, funny stuff and then emerge an hour later with my hands freezing (because my computer is in a cold part of the house) and the laundry unfolded and a feeling of time passing by me like a hurricane howling.

Did a stupid drunk trick last Saturday with a log that was way too heavy for me, and now I am paying the price in badly pulled pectoral muscles on my left side.  Hopefully it will all have healed enough by Wednesday that I can start doing massage without reinjuring it.  Had a conversation with my husband about that last night as I was waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in so I could sleep, and he mentioned that I was having a very good time when I pulled my trick, and was that not worth the pain I was now suffering.  I honestly don’t know if it is true or not.  Maybe it was.  But this is perhaps why I don’t usually drink to excess, I don’t exactly relish the consequences.  Oddly enough, I never had a hangover from this episode. 

I have a new floor in my massage room, and once we get the last little painting of the trim done this morning, we will be putting everything back in there.  No more oil on carpet collecting dirt.  I am happy.

I have so much work to do.  But now I am heading off for my massage, and maybe Marlene can fix my shoulder.  I sure hope so.

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