Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Re-tooling as a way of life in music

I didn't choose to have a career in music. I entered the world at a time when music (and culture in general) in America was on the upswing, and because my family was made of musicians and all my friends were involved in music, I saw no other path for my life. I did have intellectual and literary passions as a child, but I always embraced them as a potential amateur.

I wanted to play the violin and the piano as a child, but I never had lessons on the piano, and I stopped playing the violin at 11 for stupid reasons. Perhaps I wasn't any good at it, or perhaps it wasn't something "cool" to do. When I was 13 or so I "retooled" as a flutist. Then, after graduating from Juilliard I added the recorder and baroque flute to my "toolbox" since there was so little in the way of professional work for flutists in America during the 1980s recession, and the "early music" boom was just beginning here. After moving to downstate Illinois and realizing that there wasn't any way I could play any of my instruments professionally, I began working as the classical music director at a college radio station and soon thereafter started writing CD reviews professionally. Then I learned to play the violin again, and soon added the viola (the viola d'amore came later).

Voila! In relatively little time (and relatively much practicing) I had string quartet jobs and orchestra jobs to play. I had a promising musical life. I started arranging pieces for my quartet, and then began writing my own music. I kept going (and keep going).

Around 14 years ago the radio station changed formats, and the classical music portions of the day were replaced by pop music. Being a constant re-tooler, I began work on a master's degree in composition, and upon completing it I immediately began teaching a music appreciation course at a community college. I also had a relationship with a publisher, and spent a good five or six years preparing music I had written for publication.

The community college teaching began in full force. First there were three classes to teach, then two, and for the last couple of semesters, because of lack of demand for music appreciation courses, there was only one. There's a good chance that for this coming semester there will be none.

In my darker moments I feel like I am all musically dressed up with no place to go.

But life goes on, and so does music. I still practice every day, and though the orchestral work is diminishing for me (there are younger people around who play better than I do), I still have some work to do. I have amassed loads of useful musical skills, and am very comfortable with expressing myself in words as well as in music. I'm getting to be a better pianist, and I continue to learn more about music every day through my favorite keyboard composers. I also have my Collegium, where we play Renaissance and Medieval music, my duo with my pianist friend John David, and our community-based Summer Strings orchestra.

Fortunately I have time to continue to do what I love because Michael and I have relatively little in the way of expenses (we make our own culture as well as our food, and have access to a good library), and he has a job that keeps us both comfortable in our relatively quiet town.


jonathanbrodie said...

Your story is similar to mine. I never had a specific plan. All I knew was that I wanted music to be a part of it. It wasn't always the easiest journey; it was not without stress and sadness. The end result, however, is a happy one. The trick I think, (and I tell my students this with the conviction of an old viola player) is to find your musical niche. To find such a place is not easy, but with effort (and a bit of luck) the end result is worthwhile indeed.

Play music, write music, think about music, write about music; this makes for a good life. Thank you for putting me in touch with how fortunate we both are.

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you, Jonathan. It's nice to find someone on the same general path!

jonathanbrodie said...

I should revise the tense and change one word in my previous comment: "wasn't always the easiest journey" should be changed to "hasn't been" and "end result" should be changed to "current result".

I make these changes after it suddenly occurred to me that I'm not done yet.

At least I hope I'm not!

Anonymous said...

You confess, "In my darker moments I feel like I am all musically dressed up with no place to go," but then remind, "...But life goes on, and so does music."

Darker moments seem to contain precious few musical assumptions, though populated with many personal assumptions. Consider other words.

"Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring. The painting of Gustave Moreau is the painting of ideas. The deepest poetry of Shelley, the words of Hamlet bring our minds into contact with the eternal wisdom, Plato’s world of ideas." James Joyce, in "Ulysses."

As your work and works go out into the ether and too often refuse to return to the nest even to tell you where they roost now, the musical assumption separates from the personal. How wondrous to think that a work will live on, as formless spiritual essence, in Joyce's verbiage. Past the limits of Fiocco's life comes along an IMSLP, as you note in another blog, as proof positive that "life goes on, and so does music." Finding an Electric Hotel in music halfway around the world proves this further, does it not? Lovely surprises springing from the depth of art and art's furthermost recesses.

Darker moments seem blind to the larger reality of generations upon generations, while cheery musical assumptions and art surely reveal us to ourselves as to others ideas in a bright and broad landscape receding into and beyond a horizon, that distant place which darker moments cannot conceive and will never fathom. One might well observe that dark moments are shallow, whereas the brilliance of art as work and works is shining clear, and, as Joyce observed, merely ask to consider "out of how deep a life" they spring.

Brodie writes "play music, write music, think about music, write about music..." So you do. So do we. Dispel the dark moments, chimeras breathing fire without true heat, even if fabulous in their unrealistic fiction. Art goes on. Art goes out. Dark moments cannot see whither art flies. Musical assumptions rely on a deeper truth, that they fly farther than personally we can know.

The answer remains: Persevere. Does it not?

Elaine Fine said...

" Art goes on. Art goes out. Dark moments cannot see whither art flies."

Beautifully said, Anonymous. And carry on, Jonathan!

jonathanbrodie said...

There is much pondering ahead for me thanks to this dialogue. A longer contribution is in the works, but without delay I want to remark on this:

Yesterday I wrote: "Play music, write music, think about music, write about music; this makes for a good life."

A few minutes ago I read for the first time the heading to your wonderful blog:


I hadn't read your words before I wrote mine.

My assumption is that this is another mystery!

jonathanbrodie said...

Anonymous’s eloquent and persuasive words give us good reason to ward off “dark moments.” I do wonder, though, if such moments, uncomfortable and burdensome as they are, may also serve a constructive purpose in our musical lives . Here now is a confession; an admission that makes me, if not an expert, at least qualified to offer an experience on the subject: dark musical moments sometimes come to me more times a day than there are operas by Baldasari Gallupi. (109 according to Wikapedia.) What keeps me going is the fact that the musical victories usually add up to 110 (or 111 on a good day.)

For me, the dark moments help make the good ones seem even better.