This writing is interrupting my morning practice session. It was a particularly good session; I was savoring each note of the scales and slides in the Piazzolla Grand Tango and finally discovering exactly how I wanted to execute the glissando slides into the second note of a leap. But flashes of inspiration kept zipping through me like lightening, and I have had the insight from a young age to listen to these calls and to trust them. What emerges often isn’t exactly a perfect poem or piece of prose, but the very authentic voice of my experience, an act of self reflection that synthesizes and makes meaning out of the chaos of my life. I make no assumption that my self narrative has any necessary value to others. I post this in case you are curious. If I were a professional writer, I might edit and polish all of this, but, like my cooking, my writing offers an opportunity for my soul to breath in a moment of improvised, unedited creativity. With no one paying for these words or morsels, I can be unfettered and unburdened by responsibility. So, you can stop reading now if you like, and dinner is not obligatory! It makes no difference to me. This is that joyous for me!
I have time now to pick the daisies of my mind, to admire the day lilies in my yard and savor the abundance of what each moment brings. I love this. I really, really love this!This is the artist in me. The imaginative, colorful, free spirit that has always been there admiring and reflecting on the world with unabashed delight. This is the part of me that tosses together a dish without measuring, Italian style, with dashes and handfuls of this and that, and somehow the flavors are always just right; bold, spicy and full. Or you might find me simmering bones for hours, tasting and adjusting a Vietnamese Pho stew until it has just the right complex combination of dark and bright flavors, anise, cinnamon, lime and chili.
And yes, this is the part that savors each note in the sensuous and rhythmically driving sounds of a Tango and could do so for hours upon hours given the luxury. Or that might also wander off into some colorful soul garden and not necessarily come back for a long time. I can be that weird. Which makes grateful that as a musician I am only part artist. I am also equal parts athlete and diplomat. The physical and technical aspect of playing the cello requires repetition, patience and clarity of ideas while the fact that people pay for my playing brings an element of care and intention to my work. And then the fun part is that I get to be with people in my creative moments, I get to search for something universally human in my work. My creativity becomes a bridge, my music a conversation and this is most profound and meaningful at the end of the day.
BUT…the interesting thing I learned this year is that without the artist the diplomat and the athlete become completely pointless. The curse of success. As I have become more engaged in the professional world with an abundance of concerts, I have discovered that the artist is probably the least supported of these three characters in my field, but the most missed when she isn’t there. In a grand effort towards financial viability I performed close to 50 concerts this year. The athletic part of my musicianship thrived and developed. The diplomat too enjoyed the many connections with audiences and colleagues, the publicity and the growth of reputation. But the artist, she suffered. She really suffered! As I stumbled gaunt and exhausted through my final concerts in June I felt depleted in a way I had never experienced before. The curse of success.
I carved out three whole weeks without concerts. I didn’t really know what I needed. But I stumbled my way back to myself by cooking, planting lots of flowers and restorative yoga. Something in me wanted to slow down. Slow way way down. I’d lie in a yoga pose for 10 minutes and it didn’t feel like enough.
When I moved to our little house in the hills of Western MA my urban oriented colleagues wondered how I would make a living as a cellist. I didn’t care. I knew that the artist in me would not survive without the twitter of birds at dusk, the wild blueberry bushes or the delicate sound of falling snowflakes. As I write this I am watching bumble bees collecting pollen off of the purple colored phlox in my garden. The flowers are swaying in the breeze. No, I didn’t practice that shift 10 more times, but I will have time to tomorrow. Now I am collecting colors, moods sensations, experiences so that when I play that super delicate moment in the Ravel, it will be as gentle as that bee on the flower. My diplomat keeps the artist from wandering off, but the athlete and the diplomat both take orders from the artist. It works best this way. Then they work on translation; making the artistic delivery most comfortable and beautiful. When the sensitive artist, who needs lots of time and space to be heard, gets lost in the dizzy of concerts, the music becomes a bunch of black dots on the page, the concert an exercise.
I find it takes courage to center myself around a self and a home that most people speed by. And some people miss what I bring. More and more I am becoming okay with this. To contribute something truly meaningful an artist needs to go just beyond where others feel comfortable going themselves, and sometimes this means risking rejection, or being feared. Slowing down, way down.
Being a musician sometimes means risking not being financially rewarded properly for ones work, not playing enough concerts to pay the bills. Or playing so many that you lose touch with your soul. Its tough, really really tough. But its also incredibly juicy.
Ultimately this exploration seems timely to me. As I examine this balance of overextending vs becoming lost in a self obsessed lost in self obsessed musing, it strikes me as a pertinent modern narrative; a core question we face as a culture. How do we embrace all of the ambition and hustle of modernization, profit, efficiency without losing touch with that deepest voice of nature, or self without becoming dehumanized? We can’t and shouldn’t go back so some kind of innocent tribal living. Forward needs to be forward. It seems we are beginning to explore the creation of healthy companies, sustainable, fair trade, locally grown, organic etc.
I want to be part of this solution simply by finding this balance in my own life, by being my own sustainable, local fair trade musician. Standing here right at this intersection, it’s a great vantage point. Luckily, I have the financial where with all, and had the insight to follow this inner artists voice when I did lose connection. And I am blessed also with recognition and success. Its a luxury to be able to explore this intersection between self and society. As such, I am determined that when I figure this out, I will be a bridge for others; reminding my fellow citizens of vast inner worlds with also a growing engagement with the outer world, that sometimes it is time to slow down and be in beautiful stillness, and sometimes we need to wake up from our creative day dreams and join the world in a conversation.
Speaking of which, its time for me to head back to practicing! The world is calling.