Music and Friendship

(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, .