Thursday, December 09, 2010

It's Not the Destination, It's the Ride

I work at home most of the time now, thanks to a new assignment. It's a mixed blessing. The commute is great, and frees up over two hours a day for my personal life. The lack of other people around can make it hard to feel connected to the job, and it's easy to forget how long you've been staring at the screen before a headache and the knots in your shoulders remind you. Those little interruptions that can be so frustrating at work serve an under-appreciated purpose.

Among the better benefits of working at home is the ability to listen to whatever music I want. As a reformed musician, I have a large and varied collection of CDs and LPs, divided about evenly between classical and jazz, with some R&B and country thrown in. I don't have as much time as I used to for listening to the classical CDs. They tend to distract me when writing--when I need to apply my right brain elsewhere--but can be helpful in passing the time when working. I decided last week to re-acquaint myself with my classical collection by listening to two or three CDs a day, skipping through the racks so I wouldn't OD on some of my more popular composers.

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony hit early on. My Music Literature teacher in college told us Beethoven 5 was often considered to be the most perfect piece of music ever written. The Ninth might be greater, but any change made to the Fifth diminished it.

I was lucky enough to get to perform Beethoven 5 twice during my musical days. It might seem corny to a non-musician, but it truly is an elevating experience, the kind of thing I experienced occasionally when playing in orchestras, and nowhere else. I found myself remembering what that was like while I listened the other day, waiting for what came next, hearing inner parts most listeners experience only as part of the texture but are clear as a bell to someone who has sat close to the instrument playing it. It was the most serene work day I have ever spent.

I spent almost twenty years--college, the Army, graduate school, and free-lance--trying to make a living as a musician. I'm not sorry for a second of it. Even if I set aside all the things I learned about life and myself, the people I met, became (and remain) friends with, the places I've gone, and experiences I've enjoyed that would never have been possible but for my musical life, it would have been worth it for that feeling.

Beethoven has been dead almost 200 years, but his music lives, and is important in people's lives. This is made possible by living musicians who have spent uncountable hours in poorly ventilated practice rooms perfecting their craft as much as their talents will allow, for the privilege of bringing such music into the present day. Most do it for little or no money, not even the hope of it. The reward of the performance is enough.

I was fortunate to enjoy such privileges for much of my adult life, and I do consider it a privilege to have been allowed to do so. I counsel young musicians against trying to make a living at it, as it can be hell on personal relationships and so few can ever make a decent living at it. Only those who reject my advice have a chance. Anyone who accepts it would have come up short sooner or later; they didn't want it badly enough.

As for me, I came up short later, rather than sooner. So it goes. I ended up in a far different place than where I set out for. Every second of that early musical detour was worth it, if only for the feeling I got when I listen to Beethoven 5 on my computer's speakers, knowing that twice in my life, for about 25 minutes each, others were able to hear it live, without any electronic intervention, in part through my participation. That's quite a legacy to be a part of.

1 comment:

Charlieopera said...

Big ups to you, brother. I love it.
Back in my fantasy connected days when I could afford to go to the Metropolitan Opera almost every week (sometimes twice a week, because I had a scalper in my pocket), I had the chance to sit in the first row amongst all the MET donors (scarier looking MF'ers you just won't find outside of an opera house--several looked liked they'd already died and were propped up with sticks and streeeeetched faces) ... anyway, as you know, it isn't close to the best seat in the house--just something to say (why donors want them, I suppose) but ... I was there for Le nozze di Figaro and the music was on a stand right in front of me ... and the big bad fantasy loanshark got goosebumps I'll never forget. I often rehash the story with my wife and tell her how cool is must be to actually say you're going to work to play Mozart ... or any other master. Thanks for the story ... a very nice memory for me.
This was also the performance when Hei-Kyung Hong sang the role of the Contessa and couldn’t keep her eyes off me (so the fantasy goes …)