Monday, December 21, 2009

A wish for the New Year: Orientation

I suspect it is the legacy of the geography teachers in my family (my mother and my grandfather) that always makes me want to know where I am on the map. This is especially true for new locations. 

When I moved to Maplewood this summer, I automatically assumed that New York City was in the same direction as the train station 2 miles from here. Then, I started to take the bus, because it is just two blocks from where I live. It seemed to go in the opposite direction than the train, and  the twists and turns that it takes on the way to the city got me really confused. After 6 months, I still hadn’t figured it out.

NJT Bus 107, South Orange - NYC Port Authority

Maplewood Train Station, waiting for the "Midtown Direct" to Penn Station NYC  

When I got home yesterday afternoon, the sun catchers in the windows of the music room were sparkling in the light of the setting sun. The windows face in the direction of the train station. Suddenly, I had a revelation. 
The sunset illuminates the music room, and the sunrise illuminates the kitchen - something must be wrong with the map in my mind. 

The house on Peachtree Road - the upstairs windows belong to the music room

This morning I was sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen, drawing a map of the world as I see it, and finally things started to fall into place.  

View from the Kitchen window at sunrise

Figuring it out by yourself is so much more fun than looking at a real map. In fact, I had looked at a “real map” before, but I could never get it to match the image I had in my mind.

It occurred to me that I figure out pieces of music in a similar way. Of course, I can “scan” the piece through and find the parts that constitute a form “rationally” - exposition, 1st and 2nd subject, development, recapitulation. But it is not the same kind of revelation as playing different sections of the piece back to back - a way of practicing that I recommend often - and suddenly realizing through the sound, by way of my senses “Oh yes, this IS the second subject,”. 

Not knowing where you are is worse than knowing you’re in the wrong place, they say. So, my New Year’s wish for everybody including myself is that we will always know where we are, and if we find ourselves in the wrong place, we’ll use that knowledge in order to get moving in a more promising direction.


Sunday, December 6, 2009


“How the hell can I top this,” said Orson Welles in the movie “Me and Orson Welles” as the audience was cheering after a spectacular performance of Shakespeare’ s Julius Caesar. I sensed a trace of the post-performance-blues in his remark, and felt in good company. 

The recital last Tuesday went very well. People came to listen and stayed, even though the room was cold and competition was tough, with the President speaking on TV at 8.  
I felt connected to the music and to the audience while I was playing. Lots of enthusiastic feedback afterwards. Mary Mann’s article on Maplewood Patch, with photographs and a video, gave me unexpected publicity.

The next day brought the familiar sensation that it’s all over. You’ve been on the top of the mountain, and now you have to go back down. 

My first practice session after the concert consisted of note reading, figuring out fingerings, hand divisions, memorizing. It was disillusioning compared to the effortlessness I had achieved with the concert program at last. There was a moment before the recital last week when I was longing to play something different. Now, the excitement had its limits. 

The day after I performed Beethoven’s Sonata op.111 for the first time, I had felt as if I had been run over by a truck. I didn’t even have the energy to practice. I went for a walk and stopped by at the drug store, where I found “Pillow Pets” for sale. I purchased a pink elephant, called it “op.111” to commemorate the occasion, put him on the sofa and called it a day.

Cappuccina and "op.111"

This time, not only did I have the energy to practice, I had the energy to tackle the laundry. I call that progress. Nevertheless, the encounter with the prosaic reality of the laundromat was depressing. 

In need of a reward, I took myself to the movies. I ended up in “Me and Orson Welles”, a portrait of the young Orson Welles and the world of the theater in New York of the 1930-s. I enjoyed the movie. What really turned the day around, though, was the surprise encore. While the audience was still applauding, three people got up and went to the front. Christian McKay, the actor who plays Orson Welles in the movie, was in the theater and gave a live interview. 

It’s comforting to know that even very ordinary days hold the potential of pleasant surprises.

Christian McKay at the Movie Theater at Lincoln Center