Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Growing up under a musical shadow

I remember the first time I heard the word "personage." Someone (I cannot remember who, although I do remember that he was male and that he was older than I was at the time) introduced me to another person as the daughter of a famous "personage." I thought that this guy was being insulting--suggesting that my father was something other than a person. I spent most of my childhood being referred to as my father's daughter.

I certainly knew from a very young age that he was the principal violist of the Boston Symphony and that he was an important person. He wasn't like other people's fathers. He kept different hours from the other fathers I knew, and other people's fathers didn't spend hours in the basement practicing. Other people's fathers wore suits to work, and mine wore tails. My father's Saturday night concerts were broadcast on live television during the 1970s, and before cable, WGBH was one of only five or six channels that people could watch in the Boston area. A lot of people who were not necessarily "up" on music knew the Boston Symphony Orchestra members by sight. Other families went to the cape in the summer, but our family always went to Tanglewood. I never understood the "lure" of the cape.

When I came of musical age it became important to me for grown up people to appreciate me for what I could do, and not for who my father was, but it was not really possible. My teachers let me slither along in high school without doing much work (I spent my time practicing rather than doing homework), and I got into regional high school ensembles that I probably should not have gotten into because the directors expected me to be "something special" because of who my father was. There were a lot of great high school flutists in the Boston area at the time, and I was a relative beginner when I was playing in the New England Conservatory Youth Symphony and the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble. I know that I got into Juilliard because of who my father was, and there were people at Juilliard who probably wouldn't have even talked to me if it weren't for the fact that I was my father's daughter. It was a serious stigma and it took me a long time to get over it. It took me a couple of years of blogging to "out" myself, but I imagine that regular readers of this blog have not been coming here because of my family legacy.

There were many children of Boston Symphony Orchestra players in my high school. I even sat next to my father's stand partner's son in a few classes. None of the other BSO children in my school were interested in becoming musicians. I envied their "normalcy."

I remember that during my first year at Juilliard there were three daughters of principal violists from major American orchestras who were students. Along with me as the daughter of the BSO's principal violist (me), we had the bassoon-playing daughter of the principal violist of the New York Philharmonic (her flute-playing sister entered Juilliard the next year), and the harpsichord-playing daughter of the former principal violist of the Cleveland Orchestra. I thought it would be cool to form an ensemble, but it never happened.

I have found that as an adult I share a special bond with musical adult children of well-known professional musicians. Many of us had the same childhood, though we had different mothers and fathers. As an adult I still share a musical bond with my father, who is now retired from the BSO and is living in a Boston where he is recognized less often as a local "personage." There is a whole new generation of musicians in Boston's musical foreground, many of them who are younger than I am. Some of the people I grew up with might even think of him as "Elaine's father." Who knows?


j said...

...or maybe you got into those places because they saw the talent and respected your work ethic ("I spent my time practicing rather than doing homework")

I found your blog not long ago; I have it in my reader because it's so interesting. (And when it showed a new post next to "Musical Assumptions", I did think, "oh- that's Elaine's blog")

Elaine Fine said...

Thanks J!

Michael Leddy said...

"Some of the people I grew up with might even think of him as 'Elaine's father.'"

I'm happy to thought of as "Elaine's husband."

Michael Leddy said...

Oops — to be thought of.