Sunday, August 05, 2012

Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

I used to credit many of the major events in my life to having been in a certain place at a certain time, which turned out to have been the right time. I remember one particular night in Interlaken, Massachusetts (just down the road from Stockbridge, and during a Tanglewood summer). My flute teacher, Paul Fried (who was then a member of the Boston Symphony) played a recital; and during the recital the mosquitoes in the hall were having a feast on the audience and on the musicians. I particularly remember the heroic way Paul played the Allegro movement of the C-major Bach Sonata while a mosquito was feasting on the spot between his eyes and the bridge of his nose. I saw a hungry mosquito biting the arm of the woman sitting next to me. I slapped it. We became friends. A few years later she married my father.

Another one of Paul's students was at the concert, and during the intermission we got to talking about flutes. I had just put in an order for a Powell flute, and had been told that it would take four years before my instrument would be made. This woman just happened to have a Powell order that was coming due in a month or two, and during her waiting period she had bought a Haynes flute, and had no use for her Powell order. She turned her number over to me. That Powell number happened to be adjacent to the Powell number that my closest hometown friend (now, as then, the highly accomplished extremely beautiful Elizabeth Mann) had. We both thought this was pretty cool, though she did have to wait her four years (and I had only been playing for one or two years by the time I got my Powell).

Another lucky moment happened in Hong Kong at the home of Klaus Heymann (who would later found Naxos). It was some German-related cultural activity, and featured an Austrian percussionist giving some kind of a talk. My temporary work visa had run out (and my money had too), and I was hoping to find some kind of employment somehow. I thought that my German skills (which were quite good at the time, since I had been living in Austria) might help me, since my musical ones had run their course, and I thought I might meet somebody there.

I happened to meet Keith Anderson, who was the music critic for the South China Morning Post, and he happened to have a friend who happened to have a job teaching music in a school. This friend happened to go into labor prematurely, and the school needed a music teacher right away. I began teaching (even though I had never taught general music before) a day or two later. The money I made from filling in that maternity leave was enough for me to fly back to America.

Stuff like this used to happen to me regularly when I was a city dweller.

I am no longer a city dweller, and have now spent the bulk of my life as a small-midwestern-town dweller. This kind of thing never happens any more. When I visit New York, I feel the kind of energy I used to feel, but there is little in the way of the kind of surprise encounters I used to have.

Now what happens seems almost to be the reverse. I have accomplished everything through slogging it out the long way. Years of hard work have turned me into a string player and into a composer, and the only true serendipity I have experienced of late concerns putting together elements from the past. A good example is when I found out out that two of my closest older friends (Seymour Barab and Bernie Zaslav) played in a string quartet together more than 50 years ago (I am very proud to be the conduit that got them back in touch).

When Michael and I moved to our little town it was a very musically-friendly place. I found all things could be possible, and with time, they have, even though the town has changed a great deal, and many of the original musicians have left. Still, I am able to play regularly in a string quartet, a duo with a pianist (and sometimes a trio, adding one of the members of our quartet), a Medieval and Renaissance group, a couple of excellent professional orchestras in a neighboring city, and a summer string orchestra (a teaching orchestra, really) that has ended up (we just finished our seventh summer) being an extremely enriching experience for everyone involved.

Sometimes I miss the possibility of surprise opportunities happening at any given gathering of musicians, but I know that musical satisfaction and musical growth is something that comes from (figuratively, of course) planting stuff yourself, watching it grow, and then feeding it to people.

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