Monthly Archives: March 2012

Women as Musicians; Past and Present, 1895

Another article, another stereotyped view of women from the 1890s.  Once again, women are deemed capable of interpreting, but incapable of producing – seen as sub-par composers – and even accused of “retarding” the growth of musical understanding. And yet it is not a simple case of sexism, since women violinists are praised and men are insinuated to be unable to get in touch with their emotions. Understanding the role that gender has played in the history of music remains an elusive task…

This is from The Current Opinion, January 1895.

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T.L. Krebs…The Sewanee Review

Since the days of Gobi, the Hindoo goddess, of Miriam, the Jewish maiden, and of the Sirens of ancient Greek mythology, a woman has figured conspicuously in the development of music. Although she has never been a great productive genius, although she has never created symphonies, operas and oratorios of lasting value, her influence has been such that, without it, we could hardly conceive our music off the present to be possible. In music we need all the faculties, all the characteristics, in a word, all the personality of the human being. Since the nature of woman is such as man does not possess; since the elements of male and female individualism combined make up what we know as human mind and soul, it is evident that, without the assistance of woman, without her influence, her emotions, her intuitions and her prejudices, a full development of music would be impossible. Since music is the language of the emotions and appeals directly to the heart, it must necessarily affect strongly a being so preeminently emotional, one who consults the heart much oftener than the head. As there exists a clearly defined masculine and feminine element in the nature and construction of music, it is evident that there must also be the same condition in its interpreters.

The instrument justly considered to be most pre-eminently suited to women, because of its lightness, its form, the natural grace required in its treatment, but, above all, because of the deep poetry of its tones, its emotional qualities and its sympathetic appeals – the violin – was for years neglected by female musicians, for reasons which, plausible though they may seem, are, nevertheless, utterly without justification. Every twenty years ago it was an odd sight, and one that rarely failed to elicit visible and audible comment, not always charitable, when a girl or young woman carried a violin case through the streets of a city. Now it is quite different, thanks to a few noble women, who, not heeding this criticism as adverse as it was prejudiced, devoted themselves to the queen of all musical instruments. The violin, in the hands of a skilled female performer, appeals to the emotions of the listener as it does but rarely when played upon by a man, although the greatest depth and grandeur of which the instrument is capable have not yet been elicited by women.

Prominent among women who have composed music is Clara Schumann, who has published many more or less acceptable pieces of vocal and instrumental music. Fanny Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, composed a number of songs and pianoforte pieces in the style of her illustrious brother. Josephine Lang, a friend of the Mendelssohns, also composed some pleasing vocal music. Louis Ruget composed songs that were admired and sung, for the time being, throughout France and Belgium. Marie Malibran, the great vocalist, was also the author of several fine songs. A few years ago an opera composed by Ingeborg von Bronsart, the celebrated pianist, was performed at Weimar under the direction of the composer. This opera met with a favorable reception both from the public and from the musicians of that great art center. Among the few women who have gained fame as writers on musical subjects are Elisa Polka, Mrs. Raymond-Ritter and Anna March, who have written some excellent sketches and essays.

But why is it that woman, who has gained the height of fame not alone as executive musician, but also as painter, poet and novelist, who has even manipulated the chisel and modeling-clay with success, and has attained renown at the bar and in the dissecting-room, has not excelled as a productive musician? Though woman is highly qualified by nature to express ideas in music as if they were the workings of her own soul, though she is peculiarly fitted to reflect the poetical nature of the art on the background of her own individuality, she cannot create these poetic reflections in compositions original with herself. Her nature is opposed to the cold reasoning and the solution of profound musical problems, such as must be encountered by the successful composer. This perhaps explains why there is not a single composition by a female musician  that bids fair to hold even the second or the third rank. As a teacher of music, except in the field of theory, woman has been eminently successful, though it is painfully obvious that some, by their incompetence and superficiality, have done much to retard a healthful growth of musical understanding. In this capacity women have a great and glorious future before them.

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Musical And Arts Criticism, Press Work for Women, 1904

There is no particular reason I’m including this on the blog except for the fact that I consider myself more a music writer than musician, and I rarely come across any discussion of female music writers from around the turn of the century. It is important to keep in mind that many of our primary sources about women musicians were actually written by men. Even nowadays, it seems as if the majority of the best arts journalists are men…or is this just coincidence, given the fact the sample size of best arts journalists is so pathetically small? Who are some of your favorite female writers on the arts – whether of the past or present?

This is from the 1904 book Press Work for Women by Frances H. Low.

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Musical and Art Criticism.

This branch of journalism is, for the most part, even in the sixpenny women’s papers, for some extraordinary reason, almost wholly in the hands of men, and offers an interesting though limited field for a cultivated writer’s taste, imagination, and knowledge. Dramatic criticism involves attendance at first nights, and also some of the disagreeable features inseparable, apparently, from the stage. But as an enormous number of concerts take place in the afternoon, and as nearly all art shows can be visited in the daytime, it seems strange that so small a number of women are employed as art and musical critics. A large number of lady journalists attend private views and concerts, and describe the people and the frocks, and everything but the artistic productions; but their functions are not those of the trained critic. Seeing what a number of cultivated women musicians there are, this want of enterprise is striking; and I cannot help thinking that students who have a thorough knowledge of the theory of music, might do worse than qualify themselves as critics. The best way to bring herself under the notice of editors would be for the young critic to write a short magazine article dealing with some aspect of the musical art in an original and individual way; and with this object, it would be best to get her views printed in a journal that is not an exclusively musical organ.

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A Quick Little Protest To The Ending of A Recent Star Tribune Article

Not long ago I was able to pen an event into my schedule that for months had been merely penciled: the premiere of Judd Greenstein’s new orchestral work Acadia with the Minnesota Orchestra. I’m pretty excited about it, and I wrote a big long sprawling article about the project here.

Someone at the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote about it, too. You can read that article here. If you read my long sprawl you’ll see why I find this project so interesting – it was paid for by many small donations; the team behind it has integrated a lot of audience-enrichment activities into the commission; it will not only be performed but also discussed and dissected in the first half of the show in what will no doubt be a fun and clever fashion. However, I’m not sure if the Star Tribune writer shares my enthusiasm because (and I am not making this up) this is how he chose to finish his article about this one-of-a-kind groundbreaking project.

 What’s the worst that can happen, though?

Greenstein, a supremely affable and articulate fellow, laughed at that thought, admitting that the stakes are low. If it all falls apart, no one is going to lose their life.”On the high side, you can change someone’s life,” he said. “The worst that can happen is they don’t like it.”

If so, he can walk away, learn something about himself and his work, and write again.

It was a pretty nice article up until that point. But wow, that bummer ending made me feel like it might be more worth my while to go catch a Friday night showing of John Carter.

So let me talk for a quick second to anyone who wasn’t excited by that article. Let me try to convince you that this is a show worth buying a ticket to. My thoughts are organized, as all serious thoughts are, in a flippant irreverent tongue-in-cheek top-ten late-night fashion.

10) I’ll be there Friday night. You do want to meet me, right? Seriously, at intermission we’ll discuss female Victorian violinists and gender in music, or debate the value of shoulder rests, or fangirl/fanboy over the Minnesota Orchestra. We will probably have to do this while waiting in line for the bathroom because there aren’t enough restrooms in Orchestra Hall, but we’ll do it.

9) Much more interestingly, the composer will be there. An actual living breathing composer. Who composes. Who composes cool smart stuff that’s been praised by a lot of cool smart people. And he’ll be part of the show; he won’t be in a balcony with a monocle. Depending on how things go down, you might even get to say hi to him.

8) Who knows the next time you’ll get to see a premiere of a major 30-minute orchestral work by a world-class orchestra? I doubt I’m the only one who has noticed that the vanilla 2012-13 Minneapolis season features only one subscription concert that includes the work of a living composer. And that one living composer is John Adams. And he’s performed so often I almost kind of wonder if he even counts.

7) There’s an outside possibility that Stravinsky-esque premiere riots could be involved. (Probably not; we’re in Minnesota, after all, but let’s dream big! We’ll have excellent riot weather – 60 degrees and mostly sunny.)

6) Speaking of which, what if this piece becomes the next Rite of Spring? It might not, but what if there’s a one percent chance it will? If your grandkids become music fans, and they hear you were in Minneapolis in March 2012, and they ask you, “Grandpa, Grandma, what was the premiere of Acadia like?” you don’t want to have to say, “well, actually, honey…………I wasn’t there.” That would very possibly make you the lamest grandparents ever. Don’t risk being a lame grandparent.

5) Drinks! Drinks in the lobby! And you’re in downtown Minneapolis, so if drinks in the lobby aren’t your thing, just step outside. Bars and restaurants galore. If the concert goes badly, oblivion is calling.

4) No one has crowdsourced the funding for a major orchestral commission like this. Ever. Ev-er. In all the years of orchestral commissions. Can you imagine this form of fundraising not being a major part of the music scene in the future? Wouldn’t it be awesome to be at the performance of the first major orchestral work paid for in this way? That’s totally apart from the question of whether the piece is any good or not.

3) You can trace the eighteen-month history of the project on the Minnesota Orchestra blog, from Greenstein mulling over whether he should call the piece a symphony, to orchestra musicians raising their eyebrows when they see their monstrously difficult parts, to the viola section trying to figure out how exactly they’re supposed to play this with a spiccato bowstroke.

2) The compositional language won’t be totally alien to you because Greenstein has a website full of some pretty kick-butt free recordings. I really love a lot of his work, but At the end of a really great day is my current favorite. What’s yours?

But of course the number one reason…

1) If it goes badly, no one will die. Tired of the high stakes of the Hunger Games? Come to this concert!

Look, I’m not a shill for the Minnesota Orchestra. Fangirl with a taste for snark, yeah; shill, no. I criticize them and their guest artists whenever I feel they deserve to be criticized. But I also recognize their greatness, and I appreciate when they go out on a ledge to do something unique. And I feel sad when Twin Cities arts journalists cover that unique thing by basically saying “meh.” Because this project clearly has the potential to be a really big deal, whether because of the piece itself, the composer’s future career, the method of the commission, the use of technology, or the slim (but always present!) possibility of an exciting Rite of Spring style riot. So leave those John Carter plans at the door. I really think this weekend is going to be a blast.

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Symphony Orchestras of Women, 1913

Here is a passionate plea by music writer and founder of Musical America John C. Freund to allow women jobs in symphony orchestras. Unfortunately, nearly half a century would pass before women were consistently seen in orchestral positions. By that time, Freund was long dead.

This article appeared in The Violinist in September 1913.

***

Nearly six hundred million dollars, or almost seven dollars per head for every man, woman and child of the population, spent in the United States for music in every form! That is, for the purchase of musical instruments, from the mouth harmonica and the talking-machine to the concert grand, for music teachers, for concerts and recitals, for church music, for bands, for opera, and let us not forget the music in the theaters, the vaudeville shows and the “movies.” Of these $600,000,000 you may safely estimate that at least eighty-five per cent are spent by the women. And yet, with this vast expenditure, at least six to eight thousand young women, graduating with honors from our leading music conservatories as instrumentalists, have no hope of being able to learn a living at their chosen profession, except they, in turn, become teachers, descend to a cabaret show, or play slumber songs to their babies.

The great feminist movement which is taking place all over the world, in Islam, in Europe, and more particularly in the United States, where it is finding its highest and its noblest form of expression, as we saw in the suffragette parade this Spring, is in my judgment, the great reform movement of the hour, because it is going to make the world better, for it will make it sweeter and cleaner.

In this uplift music, literature and the arts will play their part with our ninety millions, just as surely as all the various movements for betterment will play their part.

Already there are not only popular but municipal and even State movements for the recognition of music, not only as a necessary and integral part of education but as a necessary integral part of that recreation which is as much a duty in human life as the providing of food, drink, clothes, sleep and sanitation.

What we need right here in New York is a symphonic orchestra composed of women and led by a woman. In the first place, as we have the material, why would we not have the orchestra?

Such an orchestra will be supported by liberal-minded people, perhaps, first, for its novelty, but afterwards for its value and its excellence.

It will not provide positions for the thousands of competent women musicians, but it will act as an example, and other orchestras composed of women will be formed all over the country.

The question as to whether woman is musical or not is so easily answered that one need only mention the names of the great singers, pianists and violinists of world renown. As to whether women has creative ability as a composer has nothing to do with the question, though Musical America, two years ago, found there were in this country no less than sixty women composers whose work had merit sufficient, at least, to be printed and be profitable to the publishers.

But why should not woman prove to have creative ability in music, as she has shown she has in literature, as she has shown she has in art, as she has shown she has in science? – for it was Mme. Curie who discovered radium.

An orchestra of women would not be a fad. Indeed, it is not any new thing. There is the well-known Fadettes Orchestra of Boston; there is a fine women’s symphony orchestra in Los Angeles, with Cora Foy in the concertmaster’s chair; there is the noted Aeolian Ladies’ Orchestra in London, England, now over twenty years old, with a woman conductor; there is the Olive Mead Quartet, the American String Quartet, there are women who play in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra; not long ago, in Detroit, Mich., the ladies of the Fine Arts Society organized a string quartet, for which Elsa Ruegger was solo ‘cellist. The Soldat String Quartet is known throughout Germany, and the Nora Clench Quartet holds its own against many masculine rivals. So, you see, it is already in the working; it needs only expansion and encouragement – the encouragement given by publicity to the movement to break down the ridiculous prejudice that a great musical composition cannot be interpreted by humanity except it be dressed in evening clothes, white ties and patent leather boots.

“It may be objected that the attitude of the Musical Mutual Protective Union is opposed to having women in the orchestras. I understand that they do take women members, though this applies only to women playing in orchestras with men. My proposition is for the formation of high class orchestras of women, to give opportunity to the women who can perform the music.”

If you say, “We have already too many orchestras,” I reply, “Possibly too many in New York; possibly in one place; but we have over ninety million people who are showing every day a greater appreciation for music.”

And the women are working. There are already in this country several hundred musical clubs, composed of women, with a membership of nearly 100,000, who are the greatest factor in the encouragement of artists of the highest rank. They are the backbone of our festivals. They are, indeed, the backbone of our best orchestras, for the Philharmonic, it is a well-known fact, would have gone to pieces not so long ago but for the public spirit of the late Mrs. George R. Sheldon.

Why, at this very moment, with preparations for the great exhibition going on in California, to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, who is working for music? Who is doing something? The women! Only recently two women of high social standing came here from California to make the conditions under which the sum of $10,000 is offered by the city of Los Angeles for a prize opera, which is backed by $70,000 more for the production of that opera by an American composer on an American subject.

Someone may say, “Yes, you may be able to get together fifty or sixty women of superior ability to perform the finest works; but who, pray, will conduct them?”

Well, we have, to begin with, Maud Powell, a master mind, as well as a great musician with an international reputation. Here is a telegram from her, which reads:

“Of course women should play in symphony and other orchestras, if they want the work. Wanting the work implies measuring up to the standards of musical technical efficiency, with strength to endure well hours of rehearsing and often the strain of travel, broken habits and poor food. Many women are amply fitted for the work; such women should be employed on an equal footing with men. I fail to see that any argument to the contrary is valid. But if they accept the work they should be prepared to expect no privileges because of their sex. They must dress quietly and as fine American women they must uphold high standards of conduct.”

You see how sensibly she talks. She claims for woman no privileges whatever on account of her sex, and there she takes ground that is unassailable. Capacity has no sex. A person can do a thing or not, whether he or she wears pants or petticoats.

If it be said that should women invade the orchestra and concert field or the theaters, they will take the bread from the mouths of some of the men, I reply, “They will not do it where the men are competent, and if they do it where the men are not competent the public and my ears will benefit.”

When the ancients desired to represent, to typify the spirit of music, of art, of literature, did they do it in masculine terms? Did they do it with male forms? In every case the very words were feminine, as were the forms that represented the spirit of men’s nobler attributes. Why? Because they realized that in the stress and strain and struggle for existence the nobler qualities will always be submerged, and therefore it would be left to the women ultimately to put humanity on a higher plane, not only of civilization, but of aspiration and accomplishment.

This does not mean that every woman is fitted to be a musician, or that every woman who is a musician is fit to play in a symphony orchestra. But it does mean that when a woman is fit to play in an orchestra and wants to do so, that she shall have an opportunity – that is the crux of my whole position.

If women have inspired the poets, the writers, the thinkers, the statesmen, the scientists, the musicians of the world, do you not think that some of them, at least, are capable of interpreting the very works to which they have given inspiration?

One thing is certain: while a woman in an orchestra may carry, surreptitiously, chewing gum and a powder puff, she won’t have to go out in between times for beer and a cigarette.

Now, let me tell you a little story to illustrate my position: Many years ago, at a time when even a woman pianist was almost unknown here, and a woman violinist would have been almost hooted in the streets if she carried her violin case, I became acquainted with a little Russian, or Polish, Jewess who had extraordinary musical talent. Her parents were, as most of her class are, extremely poor. A German musician of great talent, but himself poor, recognized the child’s ability and gave her lessons for nothing, for years. She tried to get engagements, without success; and finally she went to the conductor of a well-known orchestra and applied for a position. He heard her play, and said: “My dear young lady, you have so much ability and talent that you would put to shame some members of my orchestra. I could use you as my first violin, but if I were to put you in that position there would be not only a riot on the stage, but one in the audience.”

For a time, her parents having died, the young girl endeavored to maintain herself, playing around in little restaurants on the East Side, till the usual love tragedy happened, with a handsome but unscrupulous young Italian singer. She had a child, which, from lack of proper nourishment, died.

In her despair she took to drink and sank and sank – till she sank out of sight.

Here was a genius, a great talent, who was told that she had no show, no opportunity – because she was a woman. And we boast of our civilization and we call ourselves a Christian people!

This whole question, wherever we touch it, wherever we tackle it, is not a question of sex at all. It presents to the thinking mind no problems. It is a matter of elemental truth, of basic, elemental justice. - Musical America.

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Two Woman’s Journal Articles, 1920-21

Here’s two articles from the suffrage magazine The Woman’s Journal that shed some light on the battle to allow women to play in orchestras. I’m still mystified by the reasoning that women couldn’t play in orchestras because the touring would tire them, when many conductors had no problem hiring women soloists who traveled even longer and harder than orchestral players did.

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New Hope for the Musicians

31 December 1921

A bit of news interesting to women musicians comes from London. The Royal Philharmonic Society has abolished all sex distinctions and has admitted women to all privileges equally with men. When the Society was founded in 1813, except as singers women musicians did not appear in public. In recent years they have been admitted as fellows and associates but not to the higher grade of membership, which is considered a professional honor and is rather strictly limited in number. Many women musicians have aspired to this membership which is now open to them, and as the directors are elected annually by the members, women may now become directors also.

During the war, because of the lack of men, women were admitted to the symphony orchestras of both London and Paris, and some women musicians are still playing in them. In Paris, the famous Lamoreux orchestra is closed to them, but the equally famous Colonne orchestra has a number of women playing side by side with men. In the United States, except as harpists, women are not found in any of the large symphony orchestras.

Why Only The Harp?

14 January 1922

The conservative Old World moves ahead in some respects faster than the United States.

For some time women have been playing in the symphony orchestras of London and Paris, while they are still not accepted in the best orchestras of the United States with the exception of an occasional harpist. Conservatories and music schools of all descriptions have a large majority of women students. In all their graduating classes the women far outnumber the men. While they do not take up the wind instruments in any number, many women study the violin and a few the ‘cello. Why is the one source of a steady professional income in an established orchestra denied them? And, conversely, if the orchestras welcomed women players, would not many more women be encouraged to carry their studies to a greater proficiency?

A famous conductor recently gave two reasons why in his opinion women are not engaged for orchestra work. He claims, first, that they do not play as well as men and, second, that symphony orchestras in this country have such a long season and rehearse so constantly that women would find the work trying; further, that the large orchestras are on the road so much that it would be disagreeable for women. One might answer in regard to the last objection that women musicians travel in company with men in opera companies without embarrassment.

Undoubtedly the fact that women are not admitted to the best orchestras keeps many talented women from studying stringed instruments seriously, since the field of solo performer is possible for only a very few. What do women musicians themselves think of it? – G. F. B.

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Women and Music Summary, 1920

Here’s a summary of doozy of a paper that was presented in 1920 in Britain. In it, women were accused of reversing the progress of an entire art form, stealing opportunities from men, and having minds only good for receiving ideas rather than producing them. So far I haven’t come across anything that suggests more than a few people of this era believed this nonsense, but the fact that this paper was even presented, and considered worthy of summary in The Musical Times as late as 1920, certainly says something.

This is from 1 March 1920 The Musical Times.

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Mr. James Swinburne’s paper, ‘Women and Music,’ read on January 13, proved to contain much matter for discussion. He took the line that the generally accepted idea that women were the musical sex was wrong, and that until it was given up England would remain an unmusical country. He did not desire to belittle their attainments, or to deny that there were able women musicians; but in discussing half mankind it was necessary to generalise. Brain power was coupled with large brain, and men had on the average larger brains than women, and their brains used more and richer blood. Intellect might be divided broadly into two kinds – Receptive and Productive. Everyone had both types of mind, but the proportions varied as well as the quantities of each. The receptive mind involved what was called a good memory; the productive mind not only possessed that, but its characteristic was that it compared facts or ideas and developed new ones. Women had nearly always the receptive mind only, while the productive was almost peculiar to men, though a very large proportion had receptive minds only. Women were behind in composition, and shone best as pure executants. They had done nothing in any mental branch of music. The cultivation of music by women not only did not help the art in its development, it kept it back actively. Women took no interest in the art as such; they were concerned solely with their own performances. They did not explore music for themselves; they only took up what they had heard before. They did not read the musical papers, still less did they read musical books, which was the reason why there was so little musical literature in this country, nothing compared with that in Germany, where men devoted attention to music. The assumption that women were musical had two main effects. It wasted the time of innumerable women, but the greater evil was that parents thought their daughters should be instructed in music and not their sons. Small boys were thus left, and one may hear men regretting in later life that they were never taught.

Following the paper was an animated discussion, the chairman (Dr. J.E. Borland), Dr. Yorke Trotter, and others warmly controverting the lecturer’s assertions.

***

Yes, one hopes they were warmly controverted, indeed.

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Jumping Off A Cliff

A couple weeks ago I got an email from a string-playing friend. There was a second violin emergency in her orchestra. Violinist needed. Stat. Please. Help. Beethoven 7 – third piano concerto – here are the rehearsal times – here’s what you’ll be paid – will you do it? Can you do it?

Please?

My first instinct was no. No, I can’t do it. When I agree to play a concert, I like to be prepared to the max, to have my parts half-memorized, to know who I need to listen to when…to know everything I possibly can, and then to guilt myself for not knowing more. This job, however, would consist of me getting a symphony and a concerto I’d never played into run-through shape for the first rehearsal in a few days. It would be my first chance to make a positive or negative impression on the members of a semi-professional orchestra I’ve watched since my teens, which I’ve toyed with joining for years, in some hypothetical far-flung future where I’ll be much better than I ever am. So far I’d spent the majority of 2012 alternating between lying on the couch sick with the flu and playing slow scales in alto clef. I can’t imagine a worse preparation.

Can you do it?, she asked.

Can you do it?, I asked.

***

When I was 14 and went to my first orchestra rehearsal, I had no idea what to expect, so I sought advice from an older violinist friend. She said, “When you don’t know what’s going on, fake it.” I faked it the entire rehearsal. But gradually, with work, I stopped having to fake. A few semesters later, I was in the first chair of the second violins, and the conductor shook my hand at the final performance.

When I was accepted into the summer camp I knew I wouldn’t be accepted into, I was struck with a heady mix of terror and excitement. I was the least advanced, worst-trained player there; graduate students and competition winners abounded. One of the faculty members there was a fantastic player and person who had played second violin in my favorite recording of the Bach double concerto. During one of our last concerts, she played in our chamber orchestra, and I was her stand-partner in Brandenburg 3.

When I was asked by a professional musician if I’d like to try some duets sometime, I blanched. It felt like a waste of his time, like a gesture of sympathy, but I couldn’t bear to say no. Nonetheless when we got together I stalled. And stalled some more.

“I’m scared,” I finally said. For some reason, no reason, no reason at all, I was scared.

“You don’t need to be scared,” he said. “It’s just playing.”

He was right.

***

There have been times when I fell on my face. I’ve bombed auditions. I’ve lost orchestra seats. I’ve mis-read a scale…that was one octave…in C-major…in front of an important teacher…numerous times. Once when I was recording my recital for summer camp, I wasn’t told until a few minutes before I set up the mic that the pianist was actually a trombonist and only played simple Suzuki accompaniments on the side…and I’d brought her a piano transcription of a Wieniawski concerto. So there have been disasters.

But the thing is…now that I think about it, I don’t remember the disasters nearly as clearly as I remember the exultation of the unexpected successes.

***

One semester my youth orchestra took on three movements of Beethoven 5. It was the biggest musical project I’d been a part of up until that point. At the concert, before we began, the conductor asked us, “Before this concert, how many of you had played a Beethoven symphony?”

A few kids who had been lucky (and let’s face it, wealthy) enough to go to summer camp raised their hands.

He smiled. “Now how many of you have played a Beethoven symphony?”

We all raised our hands.

Is it strange that I don’t really remember anything about how the performance went? But I do remember finishing it and being backstage, waiting for a ride home. The heavy door to outside was open. Kids were leaving and shouting. Everyone was giddy. I sat in front of a bank of lockers and tried very hard not to cry. All that work, and the moment in the hot spotlight, the exultation, all come to this…sitting backstage, the music turned in, the folder empty, everything over. Not knowing when it would happen again. If it would happen again. If it could happen again.

***

Can you do it?

***

After deliberating, I hit reply.

The cursor blinked.

“Yes,” I typed. “I’ll do it,” and I clicked send.

Sometimes I guess you just have to jump off the cliff, and have faith you’ll land on your feet, fiddle in hand.

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