Fear not, the quiet on the blog has crossed my mind more than a few times in recent weeks. It’s been a full month since I’ve written. Excuses could be concocted, sure, none of which might be inconceivable: Practicing has been the priority lately, other writing projects have been eating away at my time, work is picking up in the new academic year, school has started back again, etc. To an extent it’s true that all these have chiseled away at writing time, but I’d be amiss to say that they’ve been at the front of my mind.
The day will come when I will stop getting antsy about putting “personal stuff” up on the blog. However for today, I’ll settle with a brief explanation: my boyfriend has been ill, off and on, for about a month now. An extended period of not knowing what was wrong with him seemed interminable, and though he hasn’t been diagnosed with anything chronic or fatal, the last few weeks have been enough to lend some new perspective. Indeed, while the first Sunday back for the choir at church usually marks a highlight or a point of excitement, today’s service felt somewhat perfunctory. After a brief visit to the ER last night in Lenox Hill, and a few hours of anxiety-ridden slumber, I somewhat lost my capacity to really care if the choir got through the Byrd and Parsons anthems this morning.
Fortunately, my boyfriend has started doing better. His energy levels are returning to normal and he’s once again started singing the “Mickey Mouse March” (you know, the one where you spell out Mickey’s name?) with lyrics about our 14-week old corgi puppy. (Never mind that “Lunchmeat” has two fewer letters than “Mickey Mouse” – he’s made it work somehow).
In a way, as he’s gradually gotten better, I feel like I’ve had my own straightening out. There’s no doubt in my mind that my practice time, my studies back in Oberlin, performing, my church job and the blog matter a huge amount to me. But for the first time, they don’t carry the same weight as they did before. I suppose I heel guilty to an extent: with each and every lowering of stakes, my playing seemed to improve. I’ve struggled with performance anxiety since I was a child, but for the first time in years, I gave a performance with no anxiety – or at least with a level anxiety incomparable with that of the concern I had for my boyfriend and his health.
In other areas of life as well, my instinct to always engage affirmatively seems to have died away. Charlottesville was rough, but I don’t know what I could say that others aren’t screaming at the top of their lungs. I suppose my return to Oberlin’s campus would have been invigorating in this respect, but the atmosphere seems so divorced from reality that I don’t know what I could take from it. Even on a musical level, coaching Bach’s settings of Nun Komm’ der Heiden Heiland felt just as abstract as coaching a harp etude in Juilliard did. While Juilliard was seemingly all about virtuosity and technical sanitization, literally removing bumps or shades from lines in romanticized Baroque transcriptions for the harp, my last lesson at Oberlin comprised of sitting down at a one-of-a-kind organ in Warner Concert Hall to add articulation and miniature temporal idiosyncrasies. I was jokingly told that I was going to need treatment for the Juilliard “disease” of making everything a bit too smooth and monochromatic.
Maybe the practicing has really taken over in my life, as I’ve increasingly started seeing life through the prism of my time at the organ bench this summer. In a way I can’t help but connect my impatience with the political extremities in the States to my increasing disillusionment with ideas that music somehow requires an affirmative “additive” or “subtractive” approach to get it across. Don’t get me wrong, my lesson was immensely enjoyable, but I know that the utility of any such lesson goes only so far as my ability to adapt and compromise when I head to another instrument. There’s a Juilliard disease maybe, but the protective atmosphere at Oberlin needs its own reality checks.
I realize I’m rambling in an attempt to vebalize what’s been going on. There hasn’t been a major shift I guess – I’ve probably just changed how and where I’m happy to compromise/prioritize/whatever in my life. Perhaps it’s even just temporary, but there’s a part of me that hopes that it’s not. I’m happy to quit harping on for the moment. Perhaps I’l lpipe down instead.
(Richard, I’m glad you’re feeling better.)