Music: Do It Yourself

February 22, 2010

When I was a young child, some adult asked me whether or not I liked a certain piece of music. My reply: “I like it when I play it.” The questioner and the other adults in the room laughed at me, and some foolish person said how remarkably arrogant this child was to think that a certain piano piece was more pleasurable for him when he played it than when, say, Rubinstein played it.

But I was right. And I’ve never been less arrogant in my life; in fact, I’m quite sure I not only spoke honestly when I said it, but spoke in all humility. We are not arrogant about things that give us that much deep satisfaction.

In this age of iPods, with almost all recorded music easily accessed whenever we want it, wherever we are — all things I value myself — I worry that too few of us know the pleasure (and I won’t seek out here a more impressive word than pleasure, for that’s exactly what I mean) of knowing a work from the inside and making it sound with our own efforts. Even if the level of performance is inconsistent or the interpretation is incomplete, it’s still ours in a way that few other things ever can be.

And I know Rubinstein knew just what I meant.

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Here’s a ten-year-old playing the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ. The playing is far from perfect, but I’ll bet he’s enjoying it even more than he enjoyed hearing Olivier Latry play the same instrument magnificently:

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