Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hang Tough

My friend Carrie sent this piece of sage advice given to her by Roger Lebow that I'd like to share:
I'm told things are wretched. So we'll hope for music, offered without propriety, without restraint, and straight from the soul. Let it be excessive. Let it make a scene. Hang tough.
This speaks volumes to me. Whether classical music is "dying" as a profession, or not, it is still vital for musicians to be musicians. It doesn't matter if you can't make a living from playing it or writing it (a relative few of us really do), and it really doesn't matter whether playing it on your own terms (like playing a recital of music you love) is "play for pay" or "play for play."

The profession is changing drastically. I have watched it change in front of my eyes. There are far more people in it, the technical level is higher than ever, and the materials necessary to play (including good teachers) are more accessible than ever. Expectations are up, and audiences are smaller now because there is not only competition for the "leisure dollar," but competition for the leisure minute.

Honest and informed concert reviews are hard to find, and it seems that what used to be music criticism is being supplanted with promotional copy. A handful of brand-name soloists have star power, and the rest of the truly excellent musicians around wonder if anyone will ever notice the value of what they do. Everything seems to be disposable--something of the moment that is soon forgotten. As individuals and as institutions we can try to change things, but ultimately we can't make much of a dent, so most of us play for the people who want it (need it), and, if we want to maintain our sanity, we don't worry about having what kind of "impact" it makes on the larger world.

But music itself is still the same. I have never been more excited about playing the violin, because I can finally (in my second decade as a violinist) play the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata. The concert I'm giving with my pianist friend John David next Sunday is not going to be an attempt at the Kreutzer (and the Brahms D minor, and the Bach F-minor, BWV 1018). It's going to be a performance. I can finally play the fiddle well enough to actually play the music. For the past 200 years, millions of violinists and pianists around the world have felt the same sense of honor, awe, and power involved in standing at the threshold of really being able to play this music. That is one thing that doesn't change. Roger's statement bears repeating:
I'm told things are wretched. So we'll hope for music, offered without propriety, without restraint, and straight from the soul. Let it be excessive. Let it make a scene. Hang tough.


Marjorie Kransberg Talvi said...

This post is worth reading over and over again. Thank you, Elaine.

Eveningprose said...

Much appreciation from another reader and re-reader! (an unassuming, un-musician)

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you Marjorie and Evening Prose!

Eric Edberg said...

As Marjorie said, worth reading over and over--which I have. And thank you so much for the regularity and variety of your blog posting. I really look forward to what you have to share, and am in awe of your consistency.

--Eric the sporadic :)

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you Eric. By the way, John David and I played our Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach concert today, and it made a lot of people really happy (including us). We are thinking of repeating the program in Terre Haute so that John David's son can hear it. Perhaps we can do it on a day when you can come, and we can meet!

Gail said...

Thank you Elaine. As a trained but nonprofessional violinist I now wish I had stayed with music as a profession rather than becoming an attorney. Your comments, however, bolster my continued efforts to open music to my children and give them good musical training, with one of them seriously looking toward music in college and as a vocation. I love reading your posts.