Uncertainty, dedication, and strangers in a café

July 7, 2014

I'm finishing up a two week run of concerts at a music festival on the Oregon Coast. It's been a combination of chamber, solo and orchestral music, and this is my first day off. I went into these weeks without a lot of enthusiasm, because I was feeling burned out and exhausted after coming straight from a couple of other projects, and was longing to have time at home to do simple things like walking my dogs with my husband. But this festival has been a chance to recharge my spirit. The combination of the natural beauty of the ocean with the high level of music-making has allowed my brain and body to open up to new learning and growth, and the audiences at our concerts have been so affirming and communicative of how much they value the music that it has been a precious experience. 

 

During the academic year, I'm usually not performing a new piece every night like I have been here, and it has been so valuable to tinker with my playing while having the immediate laboratory of a concert hall and audience to try out my adjustments and experiments right away.

 

I've also had the chance to observe people connected to the festival in many different roles here. The work that the board members and patrons put into making this series of concerts happen is astonishing, and it is so deeply gratifying to me that there are still peope who care enough about this art form to which I've dedicated my life that they somehow make every little detail of these two weeks run smoothly. They arrange for the musicians to stay at the homes of people in the community, they appear at each mealtime with delicious food to replenish the hardworking musicians, they sell the concert tickets and arrange the publicity - and every year the festival grows. 

 

In the mornings, I wake and eat breakfast with my hosts in their house on the shore, and we have long talks about topics like opera: how many times a year should Puccini warhorses be staged, since they fill the coffers but don't provide the most artistic challenge; whose staging of Wagner's Ring Cycle is the coolest. They are passionately interested in these things, because they love music. They attend all their local arts organizations' events, and engage with the music they hear, and have opinions. After a year of teaching Music Appreciation classes to college freshman who wouldn't be in the room if they weren't required to be, this level of relationship and connection to art takes my breath away.

 

I met a girlfriend at a café this morning who happened to be in town on holiday and caught last night's concert. The uncertainty that comes with making a life in music was a theme in our conversation. She is fresh out of graduate school, a young violinist making her way in the world. I keenly remember what it was like to be that age, poised to write my future onto the blank page in front of me, and it was good to be able to share some encouragement and reflection, just as I remember the women musicians in my life sharing with me. 

 

I got up to buy a blueberry muffin, and when I came back, the man at the table next to ours started to ask us some questions. It turned out that one of his best friends from boyhood had become a professional violinist, and now splits his time between several orchestras in the southeastern U.S., while spending his summers playing in Italy. Our new friend said he himself had studied violin as a child until he broke a finger, and he remembered his first teacher vividly and fondly, and wondered what might have been, had his relationship with music progressed. Then he noted that his friend was in his mid-fifties, had never married, and didn't have much in the way of family and friends. What he did have was a collection of fine violins he'd spent many years procuring, and a life of professional uncertainty (there's that word again). Meanwhile the man in the café had gone on to become a chiropractor, and had married and had four children.

 

We all shared an uneasy laugh, and then he said "I just heard you two talking with such passion about the music, and I had to talk to you". He was drawn to the conversation, and to remembering his own life, because of the charge of energy he felt surging through us as we talked. He said he wished we lived in town, so that he could resume his violin lessons with one of us as his teacher.

 

This story sounds bittersweet, doesn't it? But I actually came away from that café with a feeling of joy, and even some hopefulness. We can't all dedicate our lives to the arts; thank goodness there are chiropractors that I can go to when I've overused my muscles from playing the violin. But art does matter. That stirring of passion that my girlfriend and I shared in our talk kindled something real and potent in our table-neighbor. There is something very basic and human about that desire to have our minds engaged and our hearts moved. And I'm glad and thankful to live a life adventuring in the arts.

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