“It was only my art that held me back: it seemed as if I could not quit this earth until I had produced all I felt within me.” — Beethoven
Last weekend I played in two student recitals for my recorder studio: one for solo and duet pieces and one for ensembles. This was my first solo performance in over a decade, and my first time playing with a harpsichord instead of a piano. This was the first time I invited friends to listen to the performances, even though I’ve been playing in this ensemble for almost two years now.
Oh, I had forgotten so many things about why I play music! It’s been so long since I have devoted this much time to music, since I was in college over a decade ago. Back then I played furiously: I sat in several ensembles and doggedly learned solos. In my adult life, I’ve often looked back at my younger self and thought: god, what was I thinking? I was exhausted. I practiced nearly every free minute I had. I still fondly remember which practice room I favored in the music building on my college campus: where I placed my recorders and flute and in what order, which keys on the piano were worn ragged, how the sound in the room changed depending on whether I sat or stood.
I wasn’t a performance major. Or an anything music related major. But I wanted music surrounding me and living within me, from the heady beginnings of learning a new piece to the fragile polish of performance.
And I remember why now. This weekend reminded me. It’s certainly not for fame: if I wanted that I definitely would have picked a different instrument. Recorder’s a niche hobby, and people aren’t exactly breaking down the door to hear a recorder concert, particularly not an amateur one. All told, we probably had an audience of 20 both days combined.
But the size of the audience matters less than its energy, and both days I felt so much warmth, conviviality, and celebration in that space. I couldn’t give a compliment without getting a higher one in return. It was like all of us, audience and players, set an intension of openness and generosity from the outset. I felt that none of it was insincere or patronizing. We just appreciated each other. I often think that people are a bit stingy with their generosity when it comes to art, writing, and music. It’s cool to be bored and unenthused, I guess. I’m glad my recorder community chooses to be generous and to leave world-weariness at home for a few hours.
The act of performing Telemann and Bach and Sieg and Leonarda felt reverent. It’s humbling to play music dreamed and created by another human soul. It feels like being offered a gift. You accept, and offer a gift back. You feel the notes in your own body: in the rhythm of your pulse, the plant of your feet, the gathering of your breath. You feel it in your own soul: as a resonant ache, as a tremulous joy, as a singular certainty that everything you experience in this moment has been felt and understood time and time again, as humans have made music through the centuries.
This may all seem very lofty and precious. And I suppose it is, to an extent. But it also just brings me peace. To know that there is so much music, to play and to create, and that I hunger to rest in this knowledge as often as I can, before I quit this earth.