Unexpected Challenges

On December 30th, after two months of misdiagnosis by a pig-headed egomaniac of a pulmonologist, and after two months of my listening to my beloved husband’s rapid shallow breathing, I brought him to the Emergency Room of our hospital, and not a moment too soon. He had, indeed, had a heart attack shortly before that.

What followed were weeks of sheer agony for us both–and now, thank God, he is back at home recuperating.

I am a woman with creative resources, one of the few things I know certainly about myself. The piano has been by constant companion for many years, and not once did I have either the urge or the stamina–emotional or physical to go to the big black presence , beckoning me to its comforts. I find that amazing.

And even after Ernest was out of the woods, my own state of anxiety and limbo persisted, leaking into every part of my life. Only when I was teaching, could I focus on anything else besides the recent trauma. And although I had not made any blog entries during those critical months, I did send group updates to friends and family–partly as  a time and energy-saver, (instead of individual responses), partly as a cathartic.

You find out who your true friends are in many ways. The ones who expressed their presence and concern,  for both of us, will never be forgotten. The few who amazingly interpreted my accounts and descriptions of the stress as “complaints” are already forgotten and chalked off as non-friends. Strangely, in some cases, these unsympathetic recipients of my misplaced confidences, are the same people from whom I have experienced professionally-related disappointments.

In the end, just as there are only two kinds of music—good and bad—there are only two kinds of people: good and bad. Goodness and kindness are traits I value above all others. We are so grateful for my husband’s continuing recovery and our dear ones whose support was critical for us both.

One of the casualties of this period was my intention to prepare the Bach d minor concerto to perform next season after the kind invitation of Richard Hyman, the conductor of the Northport Symphony Orchestra. I realized that I could not handle an ounce more of stress than I was already experiencing, and so I told Richard that I could not take on the Bach project at that point.

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Winter Messages

011One of our favorite winter celebrations is the Winter Solstice, going back to pagan times, and the worship of the Sun and Light and Life. The birds, (Eric [and Erica] the Red shown here right outside our front door), are a fine reminder of the struggle to survive, and the triumph of hard work, with a deep understanding of Nature, and a fervent belief that there will be another Spring. We take in boughs of holly and evergreens, without any religious connotations, to fill our lungs with the sweet-smelling greens, and we begin counting the moments of the lengthening days, until our beloved plants and shoots pierce the fresh fertile soil with new growth in just a few months.

Meanwhile, there is work to be done, as the birds know all too well.
This past week, I presented a program, in two consecutive assemblies at a beautiful elementary school, to second and third-graders, on the subjects of Classical Music, fact vs. fiction, various ways of expressing oneself (writing, painting, and in musical language), using my children’s book, Polly and the Piano as the vehicle, and punctuating the talk with child-friendly classical music. Without going into detail, when a little girl stopped by the piano, as her class was filing out, to tell me “Your music was the most beautiful I have ever heard!“, I knew that all the work and energy had paid off. Another child asked me from the audience, “Did you ever hear of Beethoven?” Did I !?? He wanted to tell me that he could play the Ode to Joy !  Oh, Joy!

I am also throwing myself into devesting our abode of excess; from stuff in the basement and attic, to multiple copies of music, which I am giving to students as they need it, to books we don’t need to keep forever, and all sorts of baggage one holds onto, until it accumulates into clutter. I want to pare down, just as Nature does—shedding dead limbs and leaves off of trees, clearing precious space for the growth of the new–in my case ideas and projects. I could never work amidst chaos, and although our living space is quite well-organized, even knowing that there is a meaningless  amount of objects that could possibly be enjoyed by others, crowds my brain, and slows up creativity.

I am also thinking ahead to a performance of the Bach Clavier Concerto in d minor next season, and learning it in a leisurely way so that I can glide right into it when the time comes. The winter darkness is gloomy in many ways, but it is also cozy and concentration-inducing. What else is there to do? A great time for learning and working.spring snow 2011 001

HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE!!!—We wish you Peace and Light and Joy!

 

 

Music and Friendship

015
(Edward, Melissa
, Gary,Christina,Chris, –some of my students with me after a recital)

One of the things I love the most about my teaching is the interaction between my students, especially at group classes. There isn’t a fleck of competition or rivalry; the aura in the room is about support and good wishes for each other’s success.I wish I could say the same thing about the statistics from my own history and those throughout the halls of conservatories.

Some of the deepest friendships can arise out of shared artistic work and visions. Some of the prime examples existed in the cafes in Paris around the turn of the 20th century, and the camaraderie between artists of many genres, and their mutual inspiration. Those are the ideals, and that is how it always should be.:there is plenty of room for each person’s gifts and talents to shine, as each is so unique.

Nothing is as hurtful as when you work closely with someone, and the relationship extends to your personal lives outside of music, and you give as much to the person, out of love and the mission of teaching, and then suddenly for no apparent reason, and with no explanation, that person leaves both your studio and your life.

The emotions flow from shock, to anger, to sadness, to apathy– finally, but a lost friendship leaves a void, and those of us with artistic natures tend to turn the blame inwards and question ourselves.

Recently I suffered such a loss, and the only clue I got was from a third party who quoted my former “student” as saying “Carol tried to be more than a teacher.” Of course we are more than “teachers”, although one of the most beautiful words in the English language is “teacher“, which, in itself, is enough. The word ought to embody more than just the subject at hand, and the hour+ at the piano. With my students, it invariably does extend past these borders. I feel, in this case, that the student lost a lot. The student-friend that receives my love and devotion gets much.

However just weeks after this loss, I received a restorative bounty of love and friendship, professionally and personally, from two wonderful people. First, Teresa Dybvig, a wonderful pianist and teacher, came for several sessions to my studio, to play parts of her program for me–Debussy, Beethoven, and Janacek. Her trust and confidence, and that gesture of sharing her deepest passions in music enriched my life  in large ways.

Then David Dubal, pianist, author, lecturer, radio host, and walking encyclopedia, invited me to play and talk about my new book for his classes at the Juilliard School. The generosity of his words and friendship, and this invitation, reconfirm for me, that there are many of us who know that it is much more rewarding to be generous and to make our colleagues feel good, than to compete or resent. In his introduction before I spoke, he said to his classes, “I hate talking on the telephone, but Carol is someone I could talk to for hours.” If that is true, it is because we share the enthusiasm and joy of hearing young (and old) talent, of trying to help, and we also share the wicked pleasure of telling tales from the myriad world-renowned artists we both have interviewed.

He has written so many fine and fascinating books, and yet, he suggests to an author to bring as many books as she and her husband can carry, to sell to his students. And then the great pitch he makes on another’s behalf! Compare that to the utter silence from so many so-called musician-friends….

Possibly because David knows about the hours of solitude and hard work that go into books; and that books are like babies: they need help to be brought into the world, before we let them go…

The State of my Profession

I am in re-evaluation mode.003

My new book, The Composer’s Landscape; the Pianist as Explorer is out, and so far, doing well. But a new book is like a new baby. It requires tender loving care and attention. It requires spreading the word, doing gigs that include playing and talking which, in turn, require practicing and writing, It requires spending money for ads or promotions in order to dispense the news about the book and spur interest; but if truth be told, once a book is written, although I wish it to be read and shared, another part of me becomes apathetic—Live and be well–go into the world and create a life for yourself!

But it doesn’t happen alone. And the work writing it, in itself, was hard enough! So that’s the book.

Then there is performance. I recently got an invitation to play a concerto of my choice with a community orchestra next season. I had thought I made a decision to quit the stage, in favor of a more peaceful existence, but I enjoyed playing at Steinway this past month, and I realized how much I adore playing, and how I could never stop. So after a performance, my highest and most vulnerable moment, then came the invitation from a conductor who was at my concert, and I heard myself telling him I would certainly consider his kind invitation. Then, the day after, I heard a young pianist who is in the process of “rising” in the music world’s consciousness. He was good. Really good. And secretly I sat there listening, appraising, measuring up my own possibilities, and acknowledging that my own Bach and Brahms did, in fact, measure up. So then, I asked myself, why would I be playing with a  community orchestra, and he be playing with  world class orchestras?

And the answers came up from my inner voices–“You made your choices years ago.” “You opted for family and having it all.” “You did not want to live out of suitcases.” And the whole litany of self-explanations.

And then , as I told myself in this inner soliloquy, “It is enough to play with musicians who love to play”; that is the real point here. It pertains to playing chamber music with friends, instead of professional colleagues (who don’t want to play “for pleasure” anywayas that is what they do all day long—)

But can I do it all anymore without sacrifice to the peace I have earned after a long life in music?

And last there is the teaching. And this past year I have given more and more time and energy to my students, not just the regulars who come weekly, but to pianists and friends who are preparing programs, and come to fill in the spaces of my schedule with two or three-hour coachings–even coming as far as from Wyoming!.

This new development in my musical life (the increasing endorsement from pianists whom I respect, that I have something of value to give them, from the vantage point of my own past experience and knowledge,) is both reconfirming AND consuming!

So I have to take toll. How much physical energy can I give over to others and still have enough for my own work at the piano? When will I start my own “Desert Isle” repertoire, which at the moment are the Debussy Preludes, which I “know”, love, and teach often, but rarely play myself.

And then the word I have stressed so much in my new book, BALANCE, came to light. I know all about balance in music–in playing Bach–which touch, which voice, which dynamics, and so on, will I use? In Chopin, how much legato, how much pedal, which voices, which timbre? And as music is so much about Life, everything applies to Life as well. I have to evolve into a new balance between the elements of my life. I have to let go of opportunities that come my way, and maybe offer them to my mature and gifted students. I can keep practicing and playing, but maybe I can lessen the stress of performance by doing what my friend Teresa did recently, and give a beautiful program at home to a hand-picked, educated, friendly, receptive, and wonderful group of people.

Perhaps at times of transition or transformation, we are not meant to figure things out and make snap decisions. Clarity and perspective will come as soon as I allow myself to feel more comfortable and less pressured. Things will settle into a reasonable pace by themselves, if I allow them to.

If I use a metaphor connecting the stages of my life to the seasons, it feels like Fall. A friend reminded me to be grateful for what has been accomplished. That feels like a harvesting. But I want to ward off Winter and keep harvesting for as long as I can, .

 

The Fall Landscape

10991114_quBACH d minor preludeFall is drawing near, and there is always new excitement attached to the season. New beginnings, new students, new challenges.

This Fall will be particularly exciting with the “birth” of my new book, The Composer’s Landscape: the Pianist as Explorer; Interpreting the Scores of Eight Masters. Already there are scattered scheduled events around the book–a book signing at Book Revue, the great bookstore in Huntington, on October 15 at 7, a book party at Steinway in Melville, on November 1, Saturday at 4, at which I will play-a-little- talk-a-little, and we will eat-a-little, and a visit to a friend and colleague’s class at Juilliard to talk about the book. I expect the calendar will fill in as the weeks go by, and I am at once happy and stressed about the whole thing. Happy stress, but stress.

Will my hard work for the past two years meet with approval and understanding by the people whose opinions I value? Will I be happy with the end-product?

Usually, once a piece of work is done, I am thinking about the next project. But I have tried to put into words, everything I know and feel about performing the piano repertoire of these eight master composers. It is a culminative work, and it is a collaborative work, as I have harvested key chunks of wisdom from many of the great pianists I have had the fortune to interview for Clavier magazine, during the fifteen years I served as Senior Editor there. I believe the result is a rich compilation of ideas and suggestions, and what is more, I love the format and design of the book , with which, for the first time in any of my seven books, I had nothing whatever to do with—It felt like a loss of control in that sense, but the end-product is much better than I could have done myself.

So, I am sitting back on the porch, watching the first of the leaves begin to turn golden, and hoping there is some sort of symbolism there for good things to come…

The Joy of Brahms chambermusic

In just ten days from now, I will be realizing an ardent yearning that has persisted for about 32 years–which, not coincidentally, is concurrent with the end of my first marriage. One of the more positive things from “my other life” was that chamber-music was a fact of life for all of us–as essential as air and food. My ex-husband played the violin, and my children are both exceptional musicians. Our home was the scene of frequent ensembles, which then came to a screeching halt with everything else.

Of course, in the years that followed, I have given concerts with colleagues that have included chamber works, and my children have, themselves, had rich lives in music. They, two, are the most exquisite partners, but geography and life has made our getting together to play a rarity. Whenever my son visits with his family, we have played Beethoven and Brahms cello and piano sonatas, and Schumann, and he has been very humoring of me to play the pieces he knows I love most, even though he is lately more deeply involved with contemporary works.

When I was a child, I was invited to play with adult amateurs–trios, quartets, etc, and so the genre of chamber music has been part of my life forever. Sometimes I have felt like crying, when at a concert, and upon hearing a pianist enjoy the exquisite experience of this type of music-making. I so much wanted it to be me! So I finally took action and arranged to invite some fine players to my home to play the Brahms c minor Piano Quartet, for me, one of the greatest chamber works for a pianist. Brahms wrote equally challenging parts for the pianist whether it was a concerto, klavierstucke, sonatas, or quartets, so I have been busy practicing for this joyous get together.

I feel lucky that these musicians agreed to come–the problem always is that if you want to find a group that is fine enough to have a superb musical experience, chances are, they are professionals, and working in music every day, so that getting together “for the fun of it” may not have the same magical delights…But working in music, and playing for sheer love, are altogether different experiences. There is a dynamic of adventure and pleasure, a purer artistic energy that hovers over the ensemble that gets together for love. And if the players do not know each other well, the surprises that occur, the new chemistries, the musical-ball-catching and throwing, can almost be a game.

I will have to move some furniture out of the way to make room alongside the piano for three seats and stands. And then, maybe if it all goes very well, we may indeed, take the show on the road!

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So we got together last week, and although there were rough spots within the ensemble (such a demanding work would not, necessarily, fall into place the first time four musicians play together)– we decided to do the entire quartet again, and the second time around provided the pleasure I had anticipated. So I spontaneously asked the trio whether they would care to come and play two movements with me at my Steinway book party, and they immediately agreed. It will add a surprise element and texture to the event, and even without practicing together, it will be good enough.
“Good enough” is good enough for a casual party–not, of course, for a formal concert on stage in an important hall. It’s a celebration, and we will wing it and certainly have fun.

 

 

Best Laid Plans

Take a look at the left side of my piano desk! These are my plans.
I have a Brahms 003_croprehearsal coming up with a violinist, violist and cellist, to play the great Piano Quartet in c minor in three weeks. The piano writing is as demanding as either of the Brahms piano concertos, or any solo piece. I want to play my best, and this is music I have yearned to play for years and years. So that is a high priority!

I have a talk-and-play book party coming up in the Fall to celebrate my new book on November 1st at Steinway, where I will play the Bach Prelude and Fugue in G major from Book One, that is excerpted on the cover. I had never studied that fugue,– quite a virtuoso piece of writing! So I have been learning it now…. one more in my pilgrimage through all 48.. both volumes of which are permanent fixtures on my piano.

Ideally I would like the program to include something, (however short), by every one of the eight composers discussed in my new book. So I am fishing around in my library for new ideas. I never want to fall back on pieces that happen to be under my fingers. If I have the time, I would always prefer to learn something new. The Schumann-Liszt Widmung is open on the piano at the moment.

Additionally, I have been working on the Brahms-Handel Variations, a hefty project, but too long for the party, so that has to be set aside; and I have the Mozart Concerto K. 488, which I am working on with a student. (In that toppling pile, I probably have a copy of anything a student is currently working on that I might want to demonstrate.)

My secret desert-isle music are both books of Debussy Preludes, which I NEVER seem to have enough time for in my “mainland” life. In that stack you would find both volumes; and somewhere there, are also the Gershwin arrangements of his songs, for possible party favors. On about the tenth layer down, is the Bartok Suite, opus 14, high on my must-play list, and the Mendelssohn Variations Serieuses which I am reviving.

It’s a juggling act to find the time , even a small piece of time, for even a fragment of this piece or that. I am not usually as disorganized, in my house, or my thinking, as this stack might imply. It’s more a matter of voraciousness; and even more a sense of racing time. So much to accomplish, and how fast the day, the weeks, the years, seem to fly by……….

As pianists

Carol 1 (2)I have written before about pianists as a species unto ourselves…advantaged with work that we love, which keeps restoring brain cells and keeping us on our toes, and therefore healthier than we would be otherwise; and being the sub-species of Musician with the widest range of repertoire: countless masterworks at our very fingertips to continually enrich our lives intellectually and emotionally.

One of the big disadvantages, however, is the fact that we are just about the only musicians who cannot approach our instrument daily and freshly tune it; a finely-tuned instrument of any genre, inspires and enables any musician to play better. If we are lucky to have a beautiful piano, or even luckier to have two beautiful pianos, the cost of tuning as often as we would wish can be daunting, and the fantasy of playing a freshly tuned piano wanes with each passing week, especially if we teach on our instruments.

I know pianists who have their pianos tuned every month, but live Spartan lives in other ways. For me, although the piano is a very high priority, I also enjoy my home and gardens with my husband, not to mention other simple pleasures alongside of music. Just like any other relationship in our lives–with people who help us in various ways–medical people with our health, carpenters and plumbers helping to maintain our home, technicians with our electronic equipment, and so on, we try to combine the two elements of expertise along with  good nature. And in most of my own experience, this has been possible. There is never one single person who can do a job well. There are many fine doctors, craftspeople, technicians and tuners.

We owe it to ourselves to minimize the stresses in our lives in any way we can, and that includes only dealing with folks with whom we can have a cordial friendly exchange, without enlarged egos, or  axes to grind getting in the way. I am remembering Wally Schreiber, many years ago, who became a true friend, and who was the best tuner I have ever had. And Alecs Markevich, whose magic touch on my pianos has made all the difference in the world, along with his funny tales at lunch. We treated each other with mutual respect and appreciation. The moment anyone in my life cannot act appropriately and kindly, they are out of my life, presto-chango–whatever the quality of the work they do.

My Students

 

Student Recital at Steinway Gallery

Student Recital at Steinway Gallery

My students are like a second family to me. When we get together to perform or play in a class in my studio, the atmosphere is loving and positive. Each is rooting for the others to do their best, and they all are listening for the growth from one event to the next. We have four high school students, a lawyer, a Ph.D in Piano, a champion skier and tennis player, a couple of piano teachers, a music director, a high school English teacher, an elementary school music teacher, a financial advisor; and for all of them, the piano plays a central role, and nourishes the other work they do.

For me, it will be one of the most creative endeavors of my life, for as long as I can continue to walk to the front door and greet a student. (Eventually, hopefully in many years from now, I may have to move the piano closer to the door!)

I feel blessed to know and work with this bunch of excellent persons, and I feel their love and devotion every week. I think the work is keeping me healthier and happier than I would be otherwise.

New Book on Horizon

 

Carol 1 (2)A new book is now on the horizon with a pub date of September 2014. Amadeus Press is the publisher an imprint of Hal Leonard, and the title is The Composer’s Landscape: the Pianist as Explorer, Interpreting the Scores of Eight Great Masters.The book has its roots in the series of lecture-recitals I did over the past several years at Steinway. Using “landscape” as a metaphor for “score”, the essays and explorations probe the elements that go into interpretive decisions. I am quite excited about this book. It contains everything I have ever thought or learned or experienced about Interpretation, and will also include excerpts from past interviews I did with world-famous artists, when I was Senior Editor of Clavier magazine for fifteen years. So these discussions support and supplement my own ideas, coming together into what I hope will be a rich compilation and source for pianists, students, and teachers.

In addition, I have been fortunate to receive permissions and rights to present intermittent pages throughout the book, from autograph manuscripts by these great composers,– attractive and elucidating resources, not to mention being items of beauty and reverence.

I had thought the Venice book would have been my last, or certainly the second chronicle written on the occasion of my return to Weill Hall to celebrate a big birthday with another piano recital. But then came the lecture series, with material that almost formed itself into chapters, and then came a constant stream of ideas to add to these lectures. This book, my seventh, will also contain a CD of my live performances of shorter works by each of the eight composers, which required challenges of its own–selections, audio engineering to equalize the sound between various halls, pianos, events, and so on.

And so, I guess it will always be for me: first the conviction and intention of embarking on no further projects, then the glimmer of a new idea, then the seduction of the work itself (by far the best part!), and then the realization. Such is my creative life, and no doubt, such it will continue to be.

—I wrote this following piece a year ago, and forgot to post it. But as it is relevant to being a writer, and the feelings attached to that, I will add now.

I wrote my Venice book (A Pianist’s Journal in Venice)  because I had a hundred watercolors I had dashed off in my travel journal in a heightened state while we were there, and many scribbled impressions, episodes, and a heckuva tale to tell. I have since given several musical programs based around the book, most notably the one at Steinway Hall in New York City, complete with Venetian masques, Italian pastries and prosecco.

It was a spectacular evening in that great landmark building with its elegant salon, equal to any I saw in Venice.

And then it was over, except for a couple of less elegant events and book signings and sales, and the listing on Amazon. I never expected much more to happen; I never market any of my books, or paintings, or CDs, aggressively; and thus I have gotten used to a certain lack of recognition and distribution for work, that I believe is pretty well-done. In fact, as time passes, I realize that the best part of what I do and have done for so many years, is the work itself and I have gotten less “ambitious”, less interested in “fame”, (although “fortune” would be nice!!).

And so it is with sheer delight and surprise, that I have been treated to the spread that the magazine Clavier Companion has given to my book. In their January issue, Susan Geffen wrote a lovely review, and then “interviewed” me on the blog of the online edition of the magazine:
www.claviercompanion.com/connect/blog/51-a-conversation-with-carol-montparker

They also reproduced a few watercolors from the book which are linked onto the interview and review.

Having scaled down my expectations, the occasional burst of acknowledgement  really feels good.