Here’s a post inspired by violinist.com’s challenge “Celebrate Classical Music.” I encourage all my readers to take part!
Classical musicians are a unique bunch. Think for a moment about what is required to acquire even a basic competency in the art: a passion for a kind of music that has (at least in certain ways) slipped underground. Perfectionism. Obsessive tendencies. A willingness to be locked in a practice room for hours every day. An ability to postpone gratification. A love of beauty and intellectual rigor. As I was thinking about writing on the subject of why classical music is special, I knew I ought to talk about the music itself…but for whatever reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people behind the music.
There is the professional string-player who has the same ridiculously rare health problems I have. We went to lunch together once and compared notes. I don’t cry about my illnesses very often, but I wept in that restaurant…with sadness, relief, hopelessness, hopefulness.
There is the energetic young conductor who was forced out of town by politics and budget cuts. Before he left, my youth symphony would do anything for him – even take on a Beethoven symphony. I still feel sadness over what our community lost upon his departure.
There is the stand partner who always had some hilarious quip that would make me laugh at the most wildly inappropriate times.
There is the double amputee who learned how to repair violins so that he could help his wife, a violin teacher, run her shop. He always gave off an aura of quiet, humble determination.
There is the globe-trotting soloist who drops into the upper Midwest every year or so, always smiling, never tired, fingers spinning out note after note of sheer perfection.
There is the hipster composer who is very possibly the most intelligent man I’ve ever met. The afternoon of the premiere of his first big orchestral work with a major American orchestra, he took time out to chat with me at a Minneapolis Starbucks about Midwestern opera houses, blogs, and Youtube comments, among other things.
There is the concert pianist who leapt into my open car window at a stoplight.
There is the violinist who was very badly burned in his teens, who defied all sorts of odds and went on to become one of the star players of his generation.
There is the violinist who I originally contacted through this site who is one of my best friends. Over the last ten years we’ve talked about music, illnesses, families, boys, money, lack of money: everything. We’ve never actually met. But we will, someday.
There is the spitfire of a violinist who, after her first professional orchestral audition, was named concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra.
There is the cellist who saw a real need for a local beginners’ orchestra. Despite being terrified by the prospect, she started one. (And five years later, it’s not just a beginners’ orchestra anymore!) Now her joy and passion for music is infecting a whole community of players.
There is the public radio host who was so amused by the fan letter an awkward eighth-grade girl sent him that he entered into an earnest decade-long correspondence with her.
There is the collection of people I met through a violin discussion board. They put up with me for years! (And they argued with me for days about Bruckner.)
There is the wily violin dealer, who knows exactly what to do and say to make a very poor family commit to a very expensive instrument.
There is the young couple who taught at my summer camp: weird, wacky, and oh-so-wonderful. He would stop our groups suddenly and ask each of us in turn, very seriously, if we wore glasses, contacts, or had perfect vision. After we gave our answer, we would be free to continue playing. She told me, “It’s okay to sound like sh*t just as long as you’re trying not to sound like sh*t.” Together they made the summer of my seventeenth birthday full of music and magic, and reinforced the idea that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in music in some capacity.
There’s the violist who liked my writing here on v.com, who, the first time we met, didn’t mind my sudden burst of emotion, and let me cry a little on his shoulder. “Crying is okay,” he said.
There is the violin maker from Cremona who made my beloved violin. I found his email address online and told him how much I loved what he’d made. “dear Emily,” he wrote back, “thank you verry mutch for your mail, he make me verry happy…”
And this is only a tiny, tiny sampling of the people I’ve met. There have been many more. So many more.
Music by itself is cool, I guess. Fun. Entertaining. Diverting. I’d still play even if I was stranded on a desert island, if only for the intellectual exercise. But, in my experience, music only fulfills its highest potential when intellectual exercise is paired with a sense of human connection. When there’s a duet partner across the room. When you’re debating the nuances of a performance with an educated friend. When your teacher is leaning over the stand erasing some marks and singing to himself. When someone on stage is speaking, only she’s not using any words. When you’re in an orchestra and the horns are blaring and there’s a big scale bubbling up from beneath you in the cellos and violas and you’re furiously following the notes on the stand and scrubbing away with your bow and oh my God page turn coming up quick quick hurry and it’s impossible to make eye contact with anyone else…yet you just know everyone is feeling just as electrified as you are.
I think that’s why I find classical music so fulfilling: because the field attracts the most diverse, the most fascinating, the most interesting group of people. And I love making connections with diverse, fascinating, interesting people. I refuse to think about what a husk of a thing my life would be without classical music, and by extension, them.
Sometimes you can get rich without having any money at all.