Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Sense of Place

This morning while I was listening to Richard Tauber sing "I'm in Love with Vienna" in English, I believed him when he sang "I was born in Vienna," though I learned from reading the liner notes that came with the recording that he was born in Linz. I believe every word that Tauber sings, because he believes every word he sings. Of course Richard Tauber could not stay in Vienna because of the Nazis, so he started a whole new career in England, singing mainly in English.

This started me on a train of thought about place. Growing up outside of Boston I always felt like an outsider because I spoke like a person from the midwest, and try as I did, I could never even imitate a Boston accent. I was born in Cleveland, and when I was growing up I always held some kind of mythological connection to Cleveland in my heart. As a young adult I sought out friends from Cleveland. I guess it was from one of them that I heard that the street that held my home from birth to four-and-a-half was demolished in order to put in a highway or something.

When I left Boston for New York, Boston felt like "home" for the first time, but only for a year or two, and only when I wasn't there. It also began to change, and it is no longer the place I remember. I used to feel at home at Tanglewood, and then it changed. When I lived in New York, I never quite felt like a New Yorker (that pesky midwestern accent again), but I felt somewhat comfortable in a place that was filled with a lot of misplaced people and a lot of history. I also had good friends. I felt out of place in Schladming, the town in Austria where I lived for a year, but I felt at home in Vienna. Unfortunately I didn't have a real place to live in Vienna, and I couldn't find any work. It is not surprising that I never felt at home in Hong Kong.

It is surprising that I really don't feel at home in the little town in the midwest where I have lived for the last 22 years. Most of the things I have liked about it in years past are no longer here, and so many of the people I have grown close to have either moved away or died. Once I felt like a vital part of the musical life in town, and now I feel like a stranger, or maybe a guest. Sometimes I even feel like a ghost.

Oddly I always feel at "home" sitting in an orchestra--anywhere. I always feel "at home" going through stage doors. I have always been able to go to any stage door and walk into the hall. For some reason I look like I belong there: people have even told me so. (I have gotten into a lot of concerts for free that way.) I feel at home in my house with my family, and I feel at home when I'm teaching, when I'm playing chamber music, and when I'm practicing.

Today I started working on the Bach B-flat Partita (on the piano), and I felt oddly "at home." My younger brother used to practice it when we were kids, and I always wanted to be able to play it. I think that music, particularly Bach, is a wonderful constant to have, especially in a world where there are so many physical changes that rob us of continuity and mess around with our memories and our sense of place in the world.


Rebecca M said...

Isn't that wonderful? Music provides our sense of Boston, in the Midwest,in California, in Europe...

I think the concept of "home" is fleeting for those of us with dynamic lives. Even if we stay in one place for an extended period of time, we are sensitive to the growth and change of that place. In the end, I think that pays more homage to our "home" than fixing it in place like a two-dimensional Norman Rockwell painting.

gottagopractice said...

Very interesting reflections. Enjoy your partita.