This past weekend Samantha and I visited the Houston Symphony. One of Samantha’s customers is a subscriber but wouldn’t be in town to use their tickets, so they offered them to us; we quickly agreed. Walking into Jones Hall on Sunday afternoon triggered a swirl of emotions for me. It had been quite a few years since I had graced Jones Hall with my presence. In fact, the last time that I had been in the theater was 2006 for my final professional bassoon audition. Needless to say, I did not win the audition, and with that, I put my career as a professional bassoonist to bed.
Sitting in the audience, I was proud to see the seats full. The fear for any musician in this digital age is that society has passed our profession by. At least for this particular Sunday, Houston seemed firmly entrenched in the majesty of live classical music.
During the first piece, Danzas Fantasticas, the bassoon accompanies another woodwind soloist. The line is simple, being composed of sustained tones whose sole purpose is to support the harmonic structure in the soloist’s more complicated passage. As the bassoon’s quiet voice sang through the hall, tears sprung to my eyes. While I was impressed by the playing quality, I was taken aback because my emotion had nothing to do with the music being performed.
At the time, my initial reaction was firm and resolute - I miss playing my bassoon. Soon, it evolved into something more pronounced. My heart yearned to soar with the orchestra, desired to tangle with the complex musical lines, floating in and out of melodic material, intermittently sneaking between harmonic foundation and playful whimsy. I wanted to play. Not just play my horn on my own, but match up against others of the same caliber. I was no longer interested in being a wall flower, preferring to enter the fray and take my chances.
|The destructive power of the bassoon.|
Being an emotionally driven decision, the reality of my own personal situation quickly supplanted the quickly fomented plans. Could I really move to Buffalo, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Canton, or Calgary and play the bassoon (these being the only positions currently available)? How realistic would it be to accept a position with a salary 60% below what I am currently making? Could I really sell my house, uproot my wife, and abandon the life we had created because of a whim?
While I wish I could say I have a nice stock portfolio to sustain my lifestyle, I would be lying. The bill collectors would soon be knocking on my door.
I have now had a few days to digest the wrangle of emotions that surprised me so much. Unsurprisingly, they have receded to a dull ache, more akin to the sadness felt for a friend who has moved away, or for the end of a relationship you knew wasn’t right for you. Their origin resided less in my missing playing the bassoon and more in something else. I can play on my own through local gigs, in small ensembles, practicing, or playing with my students during lessons or band class. My melancholy stemmed from a more fundamental desire - the strong urge to participate in creative artistry.
|This is not a bassoon.|
While working with my band students and private lessons, I strive more for the achievement of skills; rarely do we experience opportunities to really make music. The opportunities we have to do so are beautiful and cherished. Each day is a pursuit of that mastery. My emotional reaction at the symphony was a desire to find that creative purity every day in my career.
I experience the same feeling when finishing a book I particularly love. I have a hard time putting it down, afraid that the feelings the words generated will quickly vacate my soul as soon as I lose contact with their origin. Usually, I jump into another novel as soon as I can just to sustain the afterglow.
What I have come to realize is the experience of creative artistry doesn’t have to be the result of my own actions. I didn’t write the books I enjoy so much (although I am emulating them in my own writing). Their function is activated as soon as I open the cover and grace the surface of the pages with my eyes. The same is true with music. While I have the ability to play, it doesn’t mean I have to do it as my livelihood. Simply sitting in the audience, feeling the music wash over me is enough. My applause at the end of the performance is as much for the accuracy of the musicians’ performance as it is for how I connected to it.
Finding those connections is the important step. Enjoy them for what they are without turning your life on it’s head. Sure, if making changes in your life is what needs to happen, I will be the first to encourage you to move forward, but make sure you aren’t chasing phantoms from your past. I love the bassoon, but I know that this is not the time to make it the centerpiece of my life. Instead, I will allow it to entertain me from the fringes, enjoying it’s presence for what it is, instead of what it might have been.