Four years ago, when I was struggling to finish my book, Cello Practice, Cello Performance, I hit a wall. There was so much to do! I had to typeset hundreds of musical figures, get all my citations right with the style guide, compose the index, and so on. It seemed utterly overwhelming.
I was a horse-mad teenager. Though I could never own a horse, since my family lived in the city and could neither afford nor house one, I went on horse treks an hour away every weekend. I loved everything about the horses — their appearance, their soft noses, their horsey smell — and felt utterly exhilarated when I was galloping across the countryside on one. I have always been a cautious, shy person, and riding seemed to take me out of myself. I had never felt so free, or free to be reckless.
Sixteen (!) or so years ago, when I was a student in London, I often supplemented my income from music with a few moderately well-paid temporary secretarial jobs.
I could make more money than most temps, because I had a typing speed of 116 wpm. This was faster than most people’s. I had taught myself to type using a touch-typing program that happened to be installed on a computer in my school when I was 11, and my finger dexterity from playing the cello and piano enabled me to build high speeds. Because of this, most of my jobs didn’t involve filing, photocopying, or answering phones; for the most part, it was audio typing and copy typing. The other secretaries in the offices where I worked were jealous that I could make £4 or so more an hour than they did. It wasn’t a fortune, but it paid the rent and enabled me to save enough money to live comfortably for the next three years in Texas without going into debt.
The kind of pay bumps I enjoyed largely don’t exist any more. These days no one needs a typist, because everyone does their own. If someone really can’t type, there are voice-activated software and scanners and so on. My skill that I prided myself on is now both universal and obsolete.
There’s a particularly ghoulish scene in Chapter 28 of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights where the (unreliable?) narrator Nelly recounts the following conversation with the (possibly also unreliable?) anti-hero Heathcliff:
He turned abruptly to the fire, and continued, with what, for lack of a better word, I must call a smile: ‘I’ll tell you what I did yesterday! I got the sexton, who was digging Linton’s grave, to remove the earth off [Catherine’s] coffin lid, and I opened it. I thought, once, I would have stayed there: when I saw her face again—it is hers yet!—he had hard work to stir me; but he said it would change if the air blew on it, and so I struck one side of the coffin loose, and covered it up: not Linton’s side, damn him! I wish he’d been soldered in lead. And I bribed the sexton to pull it away when I’m laid there, and slide mine out too; I’ll have it made so: and then by the time Linton gets to us he’ll not know which is which!’
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?
In a recent conversation with a composer friend, we started talking about why certain topics are central to the teaching of music theory. Why, for example, does the “textbook” method place so much emphasis on four-part harmony and species counterpoint when a lot of other important theoretical topics aren’t covered as thoroughly in core undergraduate classes?
Performing all six of Bach’s Cello Suites is a marathon in the career of any cellist, and for many years I wondered if it was even a good idea to attempt this feat. Surely it was a lot to expect of an audience to compel them to sit through six long and intellectually demanding pieces? Mightn’t they stagger out at the end, exhausted, never wanting to listen to the Suites ever again? Would it not be more prudent to perform one or two of the Suites at once, leaving the audience wanting more, rather than bashing them over the head with all six?
But the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. And the more I thought about the Suites and how important they had been in my career and my life, the more I realized they really did belong together as a cycle.
I’ve been following the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #metoo hashtag on social media recently, and keep reading the same comment, usually (though not always) voiced by men: “Why didn’t they speak out? If everyone knew, why didn’t they do something?”
I’m not an actor, but as a member of another profession for which there are exponentially more aspiring workers than there are jobs, I think I know why.
It’s an open secret that certain top figures in the classical music world are sleazebags. Everyone knows who they are. I can think of at least one well-known cellist who was reputed to have been grossly inappropriate with younger players. Another was universally known to have raped someone. Everyone knew, and there were no consequences for this person, ever.