This could easily turn into one of those hackneyed “our time on Earth is limited; we have to make the most of it” sermonettes. I don’t want to go there. The thing I want to get at is a little different.
I’m still processing the unexpected death of Larry Granger. Larry was an inspiration to a lot of cellists in the East Bay, and certainly to me. In the past five years we got to be friends. He was a very outgoing, social person, and I’m sure he had scores of friends — maybe hundreds. In that respect we were opposites. But on two or three occasions I saw a side of him that perhaps not everybody saw.
I have the impression — I don’t remember the details of the conversation – that when he was young, he felt somewhat aimless and undirected. But at a certain point he made a decision: He was a good cellist, and he decided that if his life was going to amount to anything, he had better take the cello seriously. So he buckled down and started practicing hours every day.
He wasn’t at Juilliard, or even at a conservatory. He was at Cal State Hayward. But he had good mentors. From that launching platform he was able to move on to a career as a full-time professional, playing first with the Oakland Symphony and then with the San Francisco Symphony. He got to tour the world with the Symphony. He got to hang out with the most famous classical musicians of our generation, or at least watch them in rehearsal from onstage.
I think Larry had a sense of the gift that he had been given, to be able to play marvelous music with so many talented people. He never tired of passing that gift on to other musicians.
In other respects, he was just an ordinary guy. (Not that any of us is really “ordinary,” but you know what I mean.) I used to be amazed by the amount of stuff he carried around in the trunk of his car. Larry was chronically over-prepared. He would go to a casual chamber music session carrying cardboard boxes full of sheet music, just in case any of it were needed – and maybe two music stands rather than just one. From that and from a few conversations, I think he may have felt a little insecure; not about his playing, certainly, but perhaps about some other things.
But he had this one great gift. He was sensible enough to see how lucky he was to have it, and smart enough to see that he needed to take responsibility for the gift, to use it to its fullest.
How many of us take full responsibility for our gifts?
I’ve struggled with this for most of my life. I have too many gifts, for starters. And they’re forced to express themselves from underneath a thick blanket of depression, over-intellectualizing, and more than occasionally just being pissed off at the world. I wish I had been more like Larry. I wish I had had the sense, when I was 20 or 25, to say to myself, “I have this great gift. I’m a musician. I need to make the most of it, every day.”
Here’s a creativity mantra, in case anybody is in search of one: “If I were taking full responsibility today for my gifts, I’d….”