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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Finding courage in the movie theater, the practice room, and on the stage

Combat de la rue de Rohan le 29 juillet 1830,
painted by Hippolyte Lecomte
Image from Wikimedia Commons
It's amazing to me how truths that I need to be reminded of step right into my path just when I need them.  This past weekend is a case in point.  The truth I had no chance of escaping this time?  
Courage in the past, courage in the present, and courage in the future - no matter when it takes place, it is something that directs us, changes us, inspires us.  
It all started innocently enough.  My husband and I had decided that we wanted to see the movie, Les Misérables before we found ourselves suddenly swimming in the craziness of the spring semester - we were seeking some calm before the storm, I suppose.  Having seen the musical several times years ago I was going along just fine with the storyline, not needing any kleenex until we got to the scene where all the characters sing the group number, "One Day More."  It's a powerful scene - so much determination, the gathering and uniting of the peoples' will from so many different walks of life, the incredible's enough to sweep anyone into the emotion of it all.  I was there too with memories I hadn't thought of for quite some time - memories of an episode in my life that has since reminded me of all that I have accomplished and of all that I'm capable of doing.  

In 1994, when I was an undergraduate pursuing a piano performance degree, I was offered a several month stint to be a pianist in two restaurants, one in San Francisco and one in Interlaken, Switzerland, whose waiters were also wonderful Broadway, jazz, and operatic singers.  First courageous moment in this act of my life was when I decided, at the age of 21 to take a hiatus from my undergraduate studies to do this - I think many of my classmates and professors thought I was more than a little foolish.  My time in San Francisco was no problem, it was when I got to Switzerland that I found myself thinking I had made a big mistake.  The singers, who had come from the San Francisco restaurant beforehand and had already been working in Interlaken for over a month before I came, were older than me, the managers of the restaurant claimed that they didn't realize my boss, who had been the pianist before my arrival, was leaving only to be replaced by "a woman - a young woman."  (I'm guessing you can imagine the tone of voice that was used.)  Ugh.  It was not a good start and I didn't really know that I was going to be able to pull myself up what seemed like a really steep hill.   During a rehearsal one afternoon it became pretty apparent that the singers really wished that they had the music for the song, "One Day More" from Les Misérables.  After failing to find the sheet music (remember, this was back in the 90's) I decided that this was my chance.  After living in my apartment as a hermit for the first part of my time there, too afraid and shy to venture out on my own, I suddenly had the courage to find a store that sold manuscript paper, bought a tape player and a recording of the musical, and spent days transcribing the music.  This was no easy task for me - I had never been wiz at music theory or at dictation, but I did it.  And the day I presented it to the singers during a rehearsal?  Oh my.  From then on "One Day More" became one of our signature numbers with it always ending with one of the singers standing on a table waving a tablecloth in place of a French flag.  And after I had stretched myself in multiple ways to get the job done I had no problems hopping on a train to have an adventure on my own, I didn't hesitate to walk into a store and try out my minimal knowledge of German, and I finally found my voice when dealing with the managers at the restaurant. 

But isn't life odd?  I had all but forgotten all of this until we were sitting in that dark movie theater and the song started.  

Why do we forget these important moments?  Why don't we take them with us wherever we go?  

The same night we had seen the movie, I found an e-mail in my inbox with Dr. Noa Kageyama's latest post - "How Can We Develop a More Courageous Mindset?" *  I couldn't help but chuckle.  "Here we go!" I thought.  I walked away from the post thinking back on all of the other courageous things I have done in my life and like Dr. Kageyama, I too found it pretty "mind-blowing."  What we are capable of is astounding and inspiring.  And yes, what we are all capable of doing is amazing too but I think I so often miss being amazed by what I've done, am doing, and can do by myself.  Why not regularly review where we've come from, how much we've learned, and where we might go next?

Maybe this all sounds a bit egotistical and self-centered.  But it seems to me that as musicians, as artists, most of us spend an awful lot of time staring at ourselves under a magnifying glass in an effort to detect the imperfections, to improve whatever we can improve.  It's hard to see courage through such microscopic investigation so I'm thinking that it can't hurt to get a different view now and then.  You never know where it might lead.

As for this last weekend, I've learned my lesson for now.  I am facing an insane few months with 20 recitals scheduled, each with different programs.  Truthfully I've been fretting about whether or not I've bitten off more than I'm capable of.  But after watching young, passionate men and women face overwhelming odds at the barricades in France, and after reflecting on all the projects I never thought I'd conquer but did, I will walk into the fray with the anticipation of being able to look back on it all sometime in the future with a nod of acknowledgement that I met my courage yet again and had a heck of a good time doing it!

I'll see you on the other side.   

* If you haven't read Dr. Kageyama's blog, "The Bulletproof Musician" yet, you really should - it's fabulous! 


  1. I believe I have that very same email from Kageyama.

  2. Ah...another Bulletproof Musician fan :-)

    - Erica