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How It Looks From the Far Side of 50

FRIDAY, JULY 7 , 2017

No musician in youth can foreknow the working of creativity in future stages of life. The non-discriminating listening public who do not hear the music between the notes may readily ascribe artistry to the young, even envision an “Artist in Residence” appointment in “higher education.” The undergraduate freshman assigned to the guidance of a young virtuoso will likely feel interpretation of the Pathétique confirmed by the charisma of success on the competition stage. Recognizing the worth of wisdom earned in years of nine-to-five teaching will happen in a later stage in that young musician’s life – or it may not.

Regardless of musicality, technical aplomb, and intelligence, there is a beyond in life when the ever-expanding spiritual dimension of the music reveals itself. What has seemed fulfillment in youth weakens in advancing years in a disorder of newly perceived ideas and unfathomable meanings, daunting to the assuredness known in youth. Like fallow ground that has been left untilled and increases in fertility, there comes that stage in which awareness, unanticipated, is drawn into hitherto unvisited regions in consciousness. Musical notation and everything one has been taught about it becomes then a springboard from which one must leap into an unclear, uncertain choice of interpretation that even once chosen never stays the same. Thereafter, the musician in age is obliged to come to terms with self-recognition as an artist not in residence but seeking residence. Someone has observed that there are three times in life when we are completely alone: when we are born, when we love, and when we die. No one remembers being born, and youth knows exclusionary, love-driven passion. But the interpreter in age knows the aloneness of independent decisions now inseparable from memories, emotions, and cerebral judgments. It may of course be a clinical memory of a technical problem that has been solved subconsciously over time, this a particular memory with a future. However, the memories of reference here rest on deeper antecedents held close to the heart – the re-hearing of words of a teacher or voices of family, or the mental re-playing of a concert or interchange with a student, Abraham Lincoln’s “mystic chords of memory” in his first inaugural. In the pianist’s far side of 50, the estrangement of affective emotions and the gnawing aloneness of I am, unlike anyone who is or has ever been, cry out to be known and understood, for the pianist, with a Brahms Intermezzo, a Chopin Ballade or a Beethoven Sonata, saying therewith: ‘This is what it is like to be me.’

José Echaniz’s remark, “Always remember that life is more important than playing the piano,” might be re-spoken on the far side of 50 as, “It is life that has made playing the piano important.” It is not to speak disparagingly of youth and the excellence it has achieved to observe that life not as yet long enough lived cannot know the perspective of memories long treasured. It is the stinging sadness of having lost a breathing closeness with the past that moves the pianist in that later stage of life to grasp onto a structure of art symbolizing the loss – the playing of a piece – to pierce the darkness, to ameliorate the burden.


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