It is tricky to talk about a sense of “homecoming” when I have had so many homes in recent years. First and foremost, Northern Michigan will always be my home. But I also consider Bloomington, Kalamazoo, even St. Olaf or Petoskey to be homes in some capacity. Of all of these locations, Bloomington brings back the strongest feelings. With its limestone architecture, bustling Big Ten campus buzz, and familiar eateries and watering holes (Mother Bear’s, Dragon Express, KOK, Bear’s, Irish Lion, to name just a few), I feel a rush of nostalgia even though I have been gone for less than two years.
This last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of playing for a family member’s wedding in Btown with my friends and colleagues Ryan Fitzpatrick, Lauren Shriver, and Sonja Kraus. We all studied cello together in Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. And while our lives continue to evolve, what remains the same is our comradery and friendship. I have to say, it is one of the greatest perks of being a cellist. You’re never really just a cellist. You are a community. A cellommunity? As long as you are with your cellist brothers and sisters, you are at home.
One of the pieces we performed was the first movement of the Popper Suite arranged by our former teacher Emilio Colon. Here it is performed by an ensemble of 176 cellists honoring Janos Starker at his 75th birthday.
The completion of the Up North tour of my M. M. degree recital program was a success, even with the first real snow of the season. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by warm and inviting people. As with almost everything I post on this blog, the tour was a learning experience. That was part of its purpose. However, I was pleasantly surprised by a few things.
No. 1 Performing music is challenging but people are nice.
Some moments were far from perfect. But the point was to test what needed fixing before the degree recital in Kalamazoo. I did the best that I could every night. As Steve Larson said, "you can't wish for problems not to come up, you just have to negotiate with them as they arise." More importantly, the program was meaningful to the concert-goers. People of all ages really enjoyed the entire program. And they expressed this. Which is kind of a nice post-performance pick-me-up. You realize that the only person that really knows your mistakes is you and everyone else, they don't really care. An audience doesn't expect perfection, what they want is to be moved by the music.
No. 2 Adapt, Adjust, Persevere
Its interesting to me that no matter how many times we musicians perform, there are still so many extra-musical factors that have the potential to throw us off. Driving, weather, set-up, warm-up, lighting (too much or too little), nerves, what you had for dinner, what you didn't have for dinner, how you slept the night before... the list goes on. Even with all the preparation, there are still in-concert challenges to address. Mental focus is key to keeping myself on track. And no matter what, we must strive to make it better than it was the night before.
No. 3 Why Go To Concerts?
One strategy I employed while on tour was the "post-concert" talk. While I do enjoy a "pre-concert talk" once in a while, sometimes I feel that they limit an audience's ability to receive the music rather than opening them to the possibilities. I tend to believe that a lot of people are equipped to experience the music on its own terms and on their own terms. Thus, the post-concert talk allows people to ask me questions ranging from "why did you choose to go out of order with the preludes?" to "when did you start playing the cello". Answering questions to "meet the musician" allows for further connectivity to the experience of experiencing live music.
If I add up No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 in my mind, I come to the following conclusion moving forward. Live performance is meaningful because it is not perfect. It is "in the moment", raw, intense, and unedited. A recording is a timeless and perfect representation of an artist's statement. Yet the concert hall offers a level of honesty and artistic nakedness that is thrilling, engaging, and meaningful. Perhaps this is what our ephemeral treasure is. No matter how brilliant that video of so-and-so is on Youtube, no matter how perfect his or her recording is, there is nothing like live performance. Marc Coppey, professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, gave me perspective on this in a lesson.
"I can send an email to a million people. Does it mean anything? I can copy my own recording a million times, does it make it better? Copy Coppey? (Laughter). Always remember, whatever you play, whether it is in a lesson, in a masterclass, or a concert, whatever you do is original and only in that moment. It never comes back. It can never be recreated."
You can't capture or reproduce the experience and community of a live performance. And that's what makes it beautiful.