My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Variations on a theme - Nick van Bloss' "Busy Body" and my poem, "The Music Masters"

Chair with Pipe, painting by Vincent Van Gogh
These past few weeks I've been reading an autobiography of a fascinating, wonderful pianist, Nick van Bloss.  There are many reason why I find his story compelling - his struggle with Tourette's syndrome, which wasn't diagnosed for many, many years, his school years of dealing with terrible bullying by students and teachers alike, his everyday challenge to live with this condition, and his incredible, unstoppable passion for music and the piano, just to name a few.  I was also moved to discover that at the time he finished writing his book, Busy Body, Mr. van Bloss had put aside his piano playing and wasn't sure whether or not he'd ever return to it again.  I was overjoyed and inspired knowing that he has since returned to his rightful place on a piano bench.  Prior to purchasing his book I had bought his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, a recording I now turn to frequently to restore my sanity.  I am grateful that he made that decision.

One chapter in his book that has stuck in my mind was one in which he told the story of performing in a masterclass at the Royal College of Music in London, for the great Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva.  His performance for her was an incredible success, leaving her without comments, only praise.  But instead of receiving congratulations from the majority of the school's students and faculty, Mr. van Bloss seems to have been even more ostracized.  In "Pandemonium," he tells of his struggle to understand the cold reception he received.  I was surprised to discover, in reading his words, that I was so very thirsty for his take on it all, perhaps because like most musicians, I have faced some odd reactions myself, although not at such a high level.  It brought to my mind a poem I wrote after my auditions for music school that sums up some of the frustration, confusion, and disappointment that I felt afterwards.  In spite of my wariness to include it in this post, (this is not an example of great poetry) I am going to anyway since it's another variation on a theme that most musicians face sometime in their career.  

So here it is.  And remember, I'm a musician, not a poet.
The Music Masters 
It's my turn to sit on the wooden chair,
the chair that they know so well.
Insecure fingers searching for fame. 
Have they learned anything? 
Hands scratch a nose,
play with a pencil.
Papers pass from one hand to another,
nods of approval or disapproval.
Hands reach up again,
fail to stop a cough.
Eyes burn a hole in my confidence,
the music freezes in my blood.
Fingers struggle to perform,
muscles tighten.
I do not feel like a musician. 
Yes, they have learned something -
music is as strong in young fingers
as in experienced ones.
The wood trembles with a
passion that scares their weathered hearts.
Why are they squirming?
Wooden chairs aren't that uncomfortable.

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