Winter is coming? No, winter is here. A deep, cold, Skyrim-style winter that chills you to the bone. And whether it’s clearing the driveway or making the commute to and from work and school, there is snow. Everywhere. (To my friends who live in California, we wish you would come visit and bring some 72 degree weather. Even 42 degrees would be nice right about now).
During the last week of January, Midori Goto came to Kalamazoo as part of her Orchestra Residency Program. Not only did she perform Shostakovich Violin Concerto with the KSO but she also visited Western Michigan University for three different events, gave coachings and a performance with Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra, and performed for and worked with Kalamazoo Kids in Tune where I teach. Because of inclement weather, her arrival was delayed and her schedule revised. Since Kalamazoo Public Schools was canceled for three days (Mon-Tue-Wed), when Midori came to after-school program on Thursday, the students hadn’t rehearsed or even touched their instruments in six days. They did a remarkable job in spite of the circumstances and rose to the occasion for our special guest.
In other news, I’ve been working on Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for WMU’s concerto competition. I didn’t make the finals but I was selected as an alternate. This Wednesday, I’ll be participating in a masterclass for Felix Wang, cello professor of Vanderbilt and cellist of the Blakemore Trio. The Rococo Variations has demanded an enormous amount intense practicing. As Uchimura has said, it’s one of those pivotal pieces in the one’s cellistic development that forces you to kick it up a notch. In other repertoire, you just play it. In Rococo Variations, it plays you.
I would like to draw a parallel between Midori’s visit to Kalamazoo Kids in Tune and my “Rococo experience” by using another winter-themed phenomenon: The 2014 Winter Olympics. I am fascinated by Olympic athletes. As they walk into the opening ceremony with the crowd and lights, you can sense the visceral amalgamation of hope and fear as the adrenaline hits their bloodstreams. Some dedicate every day of the year towards competing for Olympic Gold. Others must also balance a “normal” life with a regular job, family, and kids. Either way, the amount of personal sacrifice paid in the form of blood, sweat, and tears is enormous to the point of irrationality. Because after all that training, it all comes down to a matter of minutes, and for some, split seconds. The question becomes, why would you sacrifice so much to participate in such a high-risk competition which gives you just one change to get it all right?
Whether you are a 2nd-grader violinist play for Midori, you are Midori soloing with the KSO, you are an Olympic athlete, or you’re just riding the strugglebus called the Rococo Variations, it all comes down to challenge. For both children and professionals in the world of music, personal achievement is realized through great challenge. It may be as small as “can I keep my bow straight?” or as large as memorizing a full concerto. For their respective levels, each goal is equally admirable because their require us to engage our human capacities of adaptivity and tenacity. That’s what people live for. Its what makes us feel truly alive. When you give a high-five to a student who has begun to master a new skill, their face lights up with a huge smile. That’s the same smile you see on the face of a medaling athlete. It’s the international sign of true happiness. And just so that I don’t end this piece sounding like an Olympic-themed TV commercial, here’s a quote from W. Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis in which he reframes the idea of “winning” in terms of self-discovery and self-knowledge.
“Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.”
WMU also had a concert last week performing Cindy Mctee’s Timepiece, the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. This coming weekend I’ll be in Petoskey playing a recital with organist Joe Fortin as part of the Great Lakes Chamber Sunday Series. Updates coming soon.