Monday, January 7, 2013

Real Music

I got to do something last night that should not be as rare as it is.  I got to play real music.

"But you're a musician!" my astute readers are thinking.  "You play music every day!"

Why yes, yes I do.  But life gets busy with three kids and a dog and a business to run, and when you are a trained musician with little time to spare it's hard to find time to play simply for the joy of it.  There are concerts to prepare for that require practice deadlines for pieces you don't choose.  There are paid gigs using music you could play in your sleep (and sometimes do).  Being paid to play is not a bad thing by any means, but it's different.  It's wrapped up in responsibility and preparation and scheduling and occasionally uncomfortable shoes.  It's work.  Enjoyable work most of the time, but work.

Moments of real music, where I remember why I play to begin with, don't happen for me often enough.

Last night my friend, Linda, a wonderful musician who makes even the most dreary paid gigs a delight, held a chamber music party in her home.  She served delicious homemade soup in one of the world's gaudiest looking tureens along with wine and crackers and cheese and sandwich fixings.  (Feeding musicians is essential to their happiness.)  There were about ten of us there, some of the nicest people in Milwaukee, all ready to play music for no other reason than to amuse ourselves for the evening.

I'm the blurry person in pink in the middle (photo courtesy of Linda Binder)

We read through Haydn quartets and Beethoven favorites that I hadn't looked at in years.  There was charming new music written by a Finnish string band that was wonderful to hear.  There was something from the 16th or 17th century that none of us had heard of that had mysterious meter markings that made us laugh.  I got to play a duet by di Lasso with a cellist and it was simple and beautiful and a tad mind bending in parts.  We took turns, and played, and listened, stopping when things got out of synch, skipping whole movements if no one wanted to do them, and diving into runs not knowing or caring too much if they would fall apart by the end of the measure just so long as everyone ended up in the same place and could keep going.

Chamber music is really a musical conversation.  It's certainly lovely when it's been practiced and perfected and every nuance considered and observed.  But it's more fun when it plays out like real conversations do, with people going back and forth and moving things along as best they can.

The real beauty of the music we played last night was the element of forgiveness in all of it.  I tell my students that when they play an audition or a competition to remember that everyone is on their side.  The judges want to hear something beautiful, and aren't really looking to jump on every mistake.  We all know where the hard parts in their pieces are and what it took to prepare them, and we know the difference between an error made in nervous panic and one from lack of practice.  I'm humbled by how good some of the musicians I get to play with are, and there are situations where I'm nervous about being judged, but not last night.  Everyone was just happy to play.  The conversation didn't have to be perfect, it just had to be sincere.

I hope Linda had enough fun to want to throw another party like it again soon.  Because real music is pure joy and one of the greatest things I know.


By request, Linda's tureen.  (Which, weirdly, was greatly marked down when she bought it.)

Fish handles, people!  It has fish handles.  I totally understand why she bought it.  There is a great hathos element to it, where it is bad but you want to keep looking.


  1. Thank you, Kory!!! It was great playing together and seeing everyone. You describe my feelings about it perfectly. My only point of disagreement is...what do you mean by "one of the world's gaudiest looking tureens"? I thought it was THE world's guadiest soup tureen! Ha!

  2. You know what this reminds me of? This conjures up heart-warming memories of our Forsyth, Missouri jam session. So much fun until I got questioned by the cops for rolling my body over my friend's moving automobile after dramatically collapsing and fleeing from his him, unwittingly all in front of a special meeting of police officers.
    I would love to be part of such a free-wheeling jam session again. Maybe minus the fuzz.

    1. Why don't I remember the police at that shin dig?

      That was a fun jam, but odd because there were so many non-musicians whom I had to coach so they could join in, and we had to stick to a single chord which frustrated some of the really good players in attendance. But it was a good time!

  3. There's a group of bluegrass musicians that practices at our local park twice a month. They break off into groups, so there are usually 2 or 3 scattered around, and you basically get free live bluegrass music while your kids run around. It's amazing. One of my favorite memories is my son, who had just started walking, toddling around and then stopping to stare when the music started up, plopping down and very earnestly applauding. So now we play bluegrass music for him at home too. It's such a gift.

  4. I have no musical talent, but my father's a fiddler, and I love listening to his bluegrass group play.

    Also, I am oh so curious about this tureen. Can we request a picture?

  5. Sometimes it is just lovely to spend time with people who love something as much as you. Glad you got the opportunity, I'm pretty sure it's good for the soul.

  6. Isn't it wonderful to do something you love just for the sake of doing it? How wonderful you were able to get together and share that love with others.

    And, lest I forget, that is one incredible soup tureen. Oh my...!

  7. Oh this sounds wonderful, like a really good book club for ultra talented musician type people! I have nothing even remotely like this in my life, not even peripherally and I think it's amazing.