It’s the eve of my 21st season with the Oregon Symphony. A lot has happened in that time! One of my friends in the orchestra sent his son to college a few days ago. I remember having dinner with he and his wife as the just a couple month old little guy was in a bassinet on the table. I went through a divorce. So did some of my friends. Two music directors and four executive directors have held sway with the orchestra in my time here. Countless audience members have heard me and my colleagues play. I’ve played about, conservatively estimating, 1200 pieces of music with the orchestra, not counting the pops concerts. I’ve been thinking about my life a lot over the past couple months, both personally and professionally. Both aspects are going really well right now, but my experience of both of them has radically changed over the years.
I once anxiously awaited the upcoming symphony season announcements, wondering with excitement what new pieces I’d get to play. What old and new favorites would be on the lineup. Which incredible soloists would be coming to town. About five years ago, I’d guess, I simply stopped feeling that excitement. Partially, it was because there wasn’t that much ‘new’ in the new for me. After about fifteen years, one has played a good amount of the most standard of the standard repertoire. It’s not a bad thing, just a fact of life. But I started thinking about my sense of wonder and where it may have gotten to. I have some amazing colleagues, my stand partner Joël Belgique, in particular, who have an incredible sense of wonder about what they do. Joël is always searching out interesting things to play, ways to practice, ways to teach, and otherwise exploring some new aspect of what they do. And his joy in doing this is always evident, and inspiring.
I have a different way, I guess. I don’t know if it is worse, or just different. I think it has something to do with my profoundly introverted and introspective personality. My gaze is, for better or worse, always facing inward, or if I’m actually looking outward, it is through a prism of my inner self. I’m always very much aware of what I cannot easily do, and quick to discount what I can easily do. Some good things: I almost never give up. I work tremendously hard even when it should just be a ‘throwaway’ gig. I feel the music intensely, sometimes too much so. I remember the feeling at this year’s Oregon Bach Festival, playing Mahler 2 with that great orchestra and astoundingly good chorus, and just being overwhelmed with emotion at that great ending climax. I carried that around with me for hours afterward. Perhaps the creeping sense of distancing that I’m feeling comes from a need to protect myself from that intensity.
I am more intensely aware of the composers behind the music that I play. That they are humans who felt as intensely – or more likely, even more so – as I do. I have always had a sort of ambivalent relationship with the music of Schubert, but I’m more aware than ever of his fragility of body and striving of his mind and heart, and of the interplay of darkness and light that makes even the most repetitive passages of his later works glow with life amidst the pall that was cast over his final short years on this planet of ours.
This post is becoming one of those rambling, semi-coherent ones that I dread, and really ought to let sit and the edit and rewrite. But that’s something else that I like to leave – the train of thought that most likely goes nowhere, but the destination isn’t the goal, it’s the journey. I’m starting to see the pieces I play and the ensembles that I play with as pieces of a meta life that consists of many parts and points of view. I’m done striving for more professional glory, but far from done with striving to be the best musician I can be. I’m approaching those passages that have eluded me in the past with a renewed intent to bend them to my will, instead of the other way around. I’m also intent to discover new facets to my old friends and colleagues, and to discover those things within myself also, and hopefully find the courage to share those with others as well. It has been a long journey so far, but it really is only perhaps half done, if the average tenure of the symphony musician is any guide. If I can manage to play for a total of 42 years, I’ll be 68 when that happens, and that isn’t such a ripe old age anymore. I wonder what I’ll have to say then. It’ll be interesting to find out.