I remember what it felt like to tour Eastern Europe with my youth symphony. It was an exercise in ecstasy. We were in love with the music we were playing — and to this day, it’s some of the orchestral repertoire I feel closest to, including Bartok Miraculous Mandarin suite. We were in love with our conductor, hanging on his every word and forgiving him when he cursed at us in a hall in Budapest. We were in love with the venues we performed in and the people we performed for. We were in love with each other — sometimes romantically, usually not — baring our souls as our tour bus wound through the Tatra mountains.
We were also falling in love with ourselves — with the people we were becoming. For many of us who would go on to become professional musicians, those teenage years were years of incredible discovery and excitement. I love this instrument … I love this music … I love these people … there’s a job where I can keep doing this?!?! We began to forge an identity which was bound up with all the practices of being a musician. We started talking about our instrument being our best friend. We dove headfirst into our studies, with an inexplicable trust that we were entering a world of amazing possibilities. (We were right.)
Fast forward ten years and it isn’t all quite as ecstatic and glamorous as we might have imagined. When we’re stuck in Chicago gridlock driving to a wedding gig, or dealing with a conductor’s limited diplomatic skills, or watching our bank account drain on the twentieth of the month … the sheer joy that brought us to this work is nowhere to be found. Also, the two-headed monster of Success and Ego has entered the picture. Are we getting enough press? Are we getting paid enough for this concert? Are we gaining respect from our peers? It is very, very easy to lose sight of why I got into this work in the first place: the thrill of connecting with others through my instrument.
And you know what? It’s pretty easy to restore that feeling too. There are two steps. First, work very hard on a gorgeous piece of music. Then perform it for a group of people.
Because of my Mom’s death and Aimee’s injury, the quartet hadn’t performed in a couple of months. When we performed two gorgeous movements for the Goethe Institute this past week, it was a joyous reminder or how good it can feel to share music that we care about. Two decades of work on the violin has given me a portal, a means of connection that I never could have had otherwise. As I head to the Gesher Festival next week to play Shostakovich, Golijov, and Paganini for a whole host of people I’ve never met, I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to connect with them — and I’ll be cultivating joy and ecstasy wherever I can.