Musicians = human beings

Reader I called him

When I was a young student, I thought of top musicians — top cellists, in particular — as somehow being above the rest of the human race.

So when I first started to meet top classical musicians, I was startled to learn that the musicians I idolized were human beings as well as supreme masters of their art. I remember my surprise, when I got to meet Rostropovich a couple of years later–I wrote about it in Strings–to find that the maestro had a weakness for candy. How strange that this superhuman person should have any human desires at all! I was also shocked when Rostropovich died a few years later. Wasn’t he supposed to be immortal?

I can’t quite explain this feeling of mine that a great artist should be above the trivialities of human life and the human body, but I’ve never quite got over it.

When I’m not teaching, performing, and researching, I spend quite a bit of my time writing music journalism. (One of the reasons this blog is so seldom updated is because, like Aphra Behn, I’m “forced to write for Bread and not ashamed to owne it.” This website, and my other site Cello Tips, are where my rants go only if they’re not going to end up in a paid publication.) Part of journalism, of course, requires you to chase people down and call them and ask them leading questions. And this doesn’t come naturally to me.

I’m an introverted person, and I hate to think that I might be bothering or pestering anyone, especially some hallowed master of my profession. So even when I have a phone number right in front of me, I procrastinate for hours and find all kinds of tasks that I have to do before I can possibly call an interviewee. (Right, I can’t do one thing until I’ve moved the piano! Oh, look, dust. I can’t concentrate until I’ve dusted and vacuumed my entire office. And alphabetized my orchestral scores. And planned some recital repertoire. And answered every one of my emails.)

During one of these procrastination sessions, I decided to text a friend who has a music journalism side gig too, and asked him how on earth he plucks up the courage to call famous people for interviews.

He texted back: “Dude. They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like me. I just call them.”

What, the great and the good have to dress themselves? Their beautiful singing doesn’t inspire a collection of adorable small animals to help them get ready in the morning?

snow white 2

Something about this conversation amused me, so I quit moving the piano around, much to the piano’s relief, and picked up the post-it where I’d written the phone number of the famous person I was supposed to interview.

Reader, I called him.

And he was completely lovely, friendly, humble, pleasant, and obligingly full of quotable quotes.

Just like most of the people I have to call for my job.

Because I’ve found that among the people at the top of the top, they’re almost universally the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet, because when you’re at the top of the top you have no reason to be a jerk, so you can just relax and be lovely.


One thought on “Musicians = human beings

  1. My experience exactly. I’ve found that the more truly great a colleague (and there have been a few, I am pleased to remember) the more pleasant and easy to work with. I’ve been lucky to have had hardly any conflict with fellow performers in a long career and every one of those few was a mediocre wannabe. Similarly, most of my best friends in the profession are those who might be construed as rivals. Decent people respect each other.


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