Friday, November 13, 2015

Back to the Organ (part two)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dear Andy,

My name is Michael. Yours is, too. One of the things that will happen to you in a few years is that you will decide to stop fighting the school computer, which insists on calling you by your first name, and adopt that instead of your middle name as your standard form of address.

I'm from 30 years into your future. I am you--sort of. And I have no intention of showing you this letter, which I hadn't gotten around to composing until a couple of weeks after my return to 2015, which shows I haven't changed all that much--I still procrastinate sometimes. Although these days I have better excuses for it.

I was hiding behind one of the pillars watching you practice on October 26, 1985. When Doc Brown traveled to October 21, 2015, I hitched a ride back to 1985. You know what I'm talking about because you've just seen the movie where they travel back to 1955 in their time machine. What you haven't seen yet is the second part which won't come out for four years which involves them traveling 30 years into the future. I'm there now. I didn't get there in a Delorean. My journey took a lot longer. Let me describe some of it.

You are just a freshman in high school. Already it is assumed you will be a musician, because, in the small town in which you live you have been playing as well or better than the adults around you for years already and are being treated like a child prodigy. You don't realize how much you are going to have to learn to catch up to the standards of the larger musical world, although you have a vague unsettled feeling about this, and no resources to help. Fortunately, your mother will realize this in a couple of years on the recommendation of some teachers from the summer music camp you are going to attend in the summer, and you will leave the elementary school music teacher you are studying with and enter the world of the conservatory where you will start with a student who will teach you enough to gain admission to the conservatory, then with several concert pianists, and in four years you will make an astonishing amount of progress technically and musically. You'll end up winning some piano competitions and playing with some orchestras. You'll even win a prize at the conservatory. None of this will seem realistic when you arrive. But you'll practice your butt off and take everything your teacher tells you and eventually make something out of it. It's really astonishing what you'll manage to do in four years. But you won't be herded around to a little bit of everything anymore. Your time will be your own and you'll use it to eat sleep and breathe music. And to practice about 8 hours a day. Six when you are taking the day off. You really weren't much of a party animal in college. But you sure got a lot accomplished.

I'm going to pause for a minute to recall those humble beginnings. In the first place, we both know your music teacher was doing her best, and that she was surprisingly able for an elementary school music teacher. For one thing, she was the only one in the district who could play the piano with two hands--and she could play some fairly advanced stuff, too. She was also able to see that you needed a grand piano, which your mother thought was pretty funny, but turned out to be true. Life in that little town was pretty good, but they didn't have the resources. Remember when you didn't think Beethoven's music was available to regular people? It is, just not in small town music stores. You have to go somewhere bigger.

Which you did. And for a couple of years it was heaven. Music everywhere. Those Cleveland orchestra concerts--free for students! The library, where you could listen to all that music you should have already known, and a lot besides. Picking up all manner of things musical, taught and untaught, and all that underground repertoire--the stuff your teacher didn't assign, but you learned anyway. Gobs of it.

Eventually you'll sour on the conservatory. I won't get into that, but you should know that life gets rocky sometimes. A lot of it is out of your control, and you won't even understand half of what is going on. But you'll hang in there. It turns out not all schools are that way.

You'll end up in Baltimore for a while. At a school with a very different in atmosphere from the one you left. And you'll stay for a number of years and learn a great deal more. And be more sociable this time and have a little more fun.

You don't wind up as a concert pianist. You won't want to--although, since that is your major, and the thing that everybody associates with glamour and talent, you'll feel a bit guilty about that, but you'll wind up doing some things that allow you to express yourself more fully, including all of that creative stuff that didn't get much airing in school. It's still there. You'll use it, too. To compose, to improvise, and to educate. And you do wind up giving several concerts, some solo, some with various ensembles. You are still a performing artist--one of the lucky few who are actually using their degree the way it was intended. And you will actually manage to make your living in music. You will be right not to take that dean up on his offer to do "anything else" because music is an impossible career. It is--but it's working somehow.

You had a couple of goals growing up. They didn't necessary make sense--mostly they were what you felt you ought to be able to do because it was a fulfillment of your talent, like climbing a mountain. One was to play Carnegie Hall. You did that, about 15 years ago. The other was to get a Doctorate in Music. You did that, too. It is debatable, since you aren't in academia at the moment, whether that was really necessary, but you made the decision before you knew how specialties worked and with no help from people who knew about these things in preparing for any kind of specific musical career (they've since started counseling for music students and more comprehensive career preparation at the conservatory). And even if the degree itself wasn't really that important, the time spent earning it made a big difference.

For one thing, it kept you in Baltimore long enough to meet your wife.  She'll turn out to be really something, but you'll have to wait a while to find that out, too. By the way, her name starts with a K. You remember that time somebody told you that if you twist an apple stem one turn for each letter of the alphabet it will come off when you get to the letter of the person you are going to marry? Pretty silly stuff. You tried it and wound up with K, which I recall seemed impossible. Plus the only K name you could think of was Kathy which you didn't really like for some reason. Well, her name's not Kathy.

Those first few years in Baltimore will be tough--you won't know if you will be able to pay for school the next semester. Hang in there. You'll manage it, with some help. Then you'll wind up in--Champaign, Illinois. I know, pretty bizarre. Never would have thought of it. That turns out to be pretty good, too.

I was thinking , while I was listening to you "practice" from behind the post--which was pretty brutal, by the way--that I ought to jump out and introduce myself, tell you I'm from your future and see if I could get you to make any decisions differently from what you did the first time. But since I don't own the DeLorean and can't just go back and forth in time, experimenting with the timeline at will, I didn't want to chance it. I like how things have turned out. Other than some occasional curiosity (I'm always experimenting, you know) I wouldn't want to risk it.

It's not what you thought it would be, of course. A lot of that was what the people around you were telling you it should be like. Being famous, playing the piano on television (which you did, by the way, and I'm pretty sure nobody from your home town saw it), and so on. No, you're not famous. And you don't go around the world paying concerts, although you have played a few concerts on the other side of the world.

Actually you spend most of your time making music in the Methodist Church. You won't get your first job yet for a year and a half. It's going to help you learn to improvise as well as learn music faster. You may be overqualified, but you are also very appreciated and have a lot of artistic freedom you probably wouldn't have gotten with an agent and a concert schedule.

In another decade there will be something called the internet. Ten years after that it will be developed to the point where you can put recordings on it. A few weeks ago you recorded that mighty Bach piece you liked to listen to on that record you got in--which year was it? Anyway, you've done that a lot. Pieces you are only listening to now become pieces you play in concert and in church and make recordings of. In a few decades you will be playing the piano--and the organ, all over the world, even if it's not in concert. People will also be writing to you from all over the world, asking questions about piano playing, telling you they enjoyed reading something you wrote, or found it informative, or hysterical (see, that humor column in the school paper even turned into something). It's going to be an interesting future. You won't enjoy every last minute of it, which is too bad, but it's the way we are. And all of it, good and bad, will take you to where I am. And that's not the end, either. I think I almost caught some guy with a stoop and a shock of grey hair spying on me practicing the other day. I let him go. I don't want to know too much.

You truly,
Michael Andy

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