A student recently apologized to me for “disappointing” me when he wasn’t able to perform in a recital that I’d asked him to be part of. I felt puzzled for a minute: I have many feelings about students, but disappointment is rarely one of them. So I told him that my approval of him wasn’t conditional upon his performing in the recital.
Then I started thinking about the teacher-student relationship and how approval-based the whole business seems sometimes. So much of my motivation to practise during my student days came from my fear of the teacher’s disappointment or disapproval. I suppose what happens when you don’t have a teacher any more is that you transfer the guilt complex to yourself, so that if you don’t practise, you’re the one who’s disappointed now.
Some days, when I’m feeling pessimistic, I question every career choice I’ve made. Then I go into a doom spiral where I question the morality of spending so much time encouraging young people to make similar choices. But the thing I keep coming back to, the thing that makes it all worthwhile, is what a privilege it is to make music. Is it difficult, frustrating, annoying, exceptionally badly paid, and overcrowded? Yes. Pointless? No.
When our world seems to be going crazy, I can’t help feeling lucky that I’m in a profession that brings people together.
A pianist friend and I were planning a chamber recital, and had already settled on piano trios by Brahms and a modern composer. “We should have something more Classical, too,” he said. “What about Haydn…oh, wait, no, cellists never want to play Haydn piano trios.”
“What?” I said. “I love Haydn.”
“You do?” said my friend. “Cellists always frown when I say ‘Haydn piano trio.’ Or they start singing do do do do sol sol sol sol, and then they veto it.”
I really wanted to like meditation. I’m the demographic that’s supposed to like it, since I’m generally a sucker for the things that go with it, including avocados, wind chimes, and motivational TED talks. But when I downloaded a meditation app on my phone, I realized that it wasn’t going to work for me.
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.