Saturday, February 11, 2006

On Professionalism

I went last night with MommaGlacier to a concert held in the restored “island house” of an old sugar planation. The old stone building, like many here, had no clear defining line between outdoors and in. Huge, glassless windows and even larger, sill-less doors were left open to the outside. This arrangement makes good sense in the tropics, but only (in my opinion) in locations free of poisonous snakes.

A chandelier lit with a score or more candles hung from the high ceiling over the central concert room. A few insects whirred lazily through the doors and buzzed around the lights. The fairly renowned musicians—a woman on piano, and man on French horn—were elegantly dressed, in a satin gown and tuxedo. They played elegantly, too—Mozart, and Saint Saens, and others.

Partway through the program, I noticed the woman’s hands made a barely perceptible but unusual motion. It was a fast part of the piece, the horn was loud, and for just a bare moment her fingers hovered over the keys and shook side to side. Then they dove back down, rejoined the music like a leaping salmon rejoining its stream, and continued on. I couldn’t tell if she had missed a note or not. I thought maybe there was no note there, that the horn was supposed to have an instant to itself, and that the shaking hover was a pianist’s trick to mark the time of one note’s suspension.

At the end of the piece, after applause and smiling bows, the pianist whispered something to the horn player, and then said to the audience, “I just need to take a moment’s break. A bee stung me on my hand during that piece.”

I was awfully impressed. The last time I was stung by a bee, which was just a few months back, I felt there had been a small nuclear Armageddon. I hollered several obscenities, and could think of nothing but my throbbing hand for at least five minutes. Doe they teach you, at Julliard, how to keep playing through sudden, excruciating pain? Is there a class where the instructor, without warning, attacks you with a pointed stick while you’re playing? Probably not. But clearly they teach you how not to stop playing, gripe, and ask for a do-over when something goes awry.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess that's part of being focussed on the task at hand.

2/11/06, 8:30 AM  
Anonymous hilllady said...

Is there a class where the instructor, without warning, attacks you with a pointed stick while you’re playing?

My impression is yes, from what I've gleaned from my pianist grandmother, who was there in the '20s and '30s. She's played concerts with a recently healed fracture and a bloody nose ("they thought the music had moved me to tears!"). The bee would have taken her out, though; she's allergic.

2/11/06, 8:30 AM  
Blogger Katinka said...

*wiping the tears away*

(sorry...I'm sure it's not quite as funny being on the receiving end)

My great aunt used to tell stories of how her piano teacher used to slap the back of her hands with a ruler when she made a mistake, so I think there may be something to that theory.

2/11/06, 1:38 PM  

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