Monday, March 19, 2007

Music --- The Road Not Taken

Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away --- ok Middletown, Ohio --- I was destined to be a musician.

On piano I could sightread nearly anything written before 1920 and played with abandon. I took flute lessons from a man in the Cincinnati Symphony, wonderful person who corrected my mistakes not by criticism, but by saying I could do better.

My piccolo, a Christmas present, carried me thru high school and college and all the way to Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center. The Washington Post said our [Cornell] symphony played better than the local orchestra. Probably this was due to the deficiencies of the National Symphony rather than anything stellar about us.

Our director, Karel Husa of Czechoslovakia, was quite tempermental. I forgave him his tantrums because they were always in the service of superior music. He won the Pulitzer Prize just as I began college. One of my favorite memories of him was our walking toward Carnegie Hall for our concert there in '73. I ran up to him and asked the famous joke question, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? And he shook his head, "I don't know." I had to explain the joke.

At my 40th birthday I examined my Dream List and decided to go for at least one major dream. It was singing lessons, which I did for three years and had some small roles at church.

For fun I taught myself how to play organ and became the emergency backup organist at church. This was a long way from being a child who came close to the organ at church and was sharply scolded DON'T TOUCH THAT, she didn't know or didn't care that I was a piano virtuoso, and it was another 30 years until I played organ for real. But what a pleasure to learn. I play with bare feet, to the great amusement of the children in the choirs.

I simultaneously began composing music for voice and piano with 15 or so copyrights. I'm especially proud of one piece which is original music and lyrics about depression, asking God if He has forgotten me. For giving back to the community I was the accompanist for children's choirs at church and at the local elementary school, and was the treasurer for the middle school band for nearly a decade, even after my children had graduated.

Each of my three children performed at the Kennedy Center in separate events. I fear to add up the number of music lessons they had. One learned to play numerous instruments and had perfect pitch. One took up my lovely instruments and performed at the national level. One took up both instrumental and vocal music and also had perfect pitch. Thank God for these amazing creatures.

It was a severe challenge to encourage my children to take up music, which was an integral part of my life, without demanding so much that they would simply quit. One of them could have been a prodigy but I refused to go that route, I know too many young people who were forced to play and quit it entirely later. How to encourage them enough to develop, without overwatering them.

So why didn't I become a musician? I struggled with this in high school and college. It was what made me happy, yet there were so many egregious problems in the world, I felt I needed to be involved in helping to find the solutions. One final turning point came when this lovely Czech conductor had me play a Rachmaninoff concerto with the Cornell symphony one night at rehearsal, bless his heart. After that I realized I needed to work for world peace more than I needed to play music.

I have often joked to my Russian medical colleagues that they should be grateful I didn't win the Tchaikovsky Prize in high school, else they would be struggling without my input. Music is the road not taken. It would have made me happy, but I chose to make others happy. In so doing I have helped to save 3,000 lives. Was it the right choice?



egregious said...

What is your road not taken?

mack said...

I think it was the right choice
There are plenty of brilliant musicians (and I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy tracking them down)
What you do is far greater
God bless you

egregious said...


Thank you. I need this encouragement.