Three’s Company

An inspiring concert tonight — the Tilden Trio onstage at the Bankhead in Livermore. They played Beethoven’s Op. 1, No. 3, the Dvorak F minor trio, and … well, apparently there was a chaotic scene last night at some hotel in San Francisco, where they played at a gala honoring Michael Tilson Thomas. The violinist’s sheet music for the third trio piece got lost. So they substituted a virtuosic violin/cello duo by Bohuslav Martinu. Wow!

Sometimes I think all I want to do is play, listen to, and compose music. Why bother doing anything else? I now have a keen desire to rush out and buy several CDs of music by Martinu. On the other hand, I have a box set of CDs containing all 14 Shostakovich string quartets, and when was the last time I listened to them? Heck, I have a couple of hundred LPs and a functioning turntable, and I can’t remember the last time I played an LP at all, other than to let one of my students hear Pablo Casals playing Bach.

I’m strictly an amateur pianist, but I keep at it. Over the last few years I’ve learned several Haydn piano sonatas. But when I don’t play a piece for a while, it falls apart. One of my goals for this winter is to expand my repertoire by relearning a bunch of piano music that I’ve learned and then set aside. Right now I’m working on the Haydn C# minor sonata. And lots of Bach. And Clementi, who was amazing.

The wonderful thing about playing the piano is that there’s an endless supply of great music that you can play by yourself, in your living room. I enjoy playing the cello too, but the cello is not a solo instrument. It’s meant to be part of a group. Finding a good group to play with can be a challenge — and if it’s an orchestra, you have essentially no creative input whatever. In an orchestra, you’re a foot soldier. Somebody hands you a stack of paper with dots on it, and your job is to wiggle your fingers in ways that match the pattern of dots.

I have a friend who plays in a semi-pro trio. Tonight I ran into him in the lobby, and he told me that his trio is on hiatus, because the pianist’s young daughter has diabetes. The father is self-employed, so they have no health insurance. So now the mother is running around playing competition-level piano solos in order to try to promote herself into a college teaching job, which would provide insurance. She would rather be playing chamber music, but providing care for her daughter is a higher priority.

If they were living in Britain or Denmark, she’d be able to continue playing chamber music. Welcome to the Wild West, where we shoot the messenger first and ask questions later, or not at all. I wasn’t going to get off on a political rant, but here are some committed and capable musicians who are deprived of an opportunity to do what they love because Washington, D.C., is a wholly owned subsidiary of the banks and the insurance industry.

On a more positive note, I also ran into one of Livermore’s outstanding young cellists in the lobby. She said something about wanting to meet Peter Wyrick, the cellist with the Tilden Trio. I said, “Okay, come on.” I took her over and introduced her to him. I only know him slightly, and more or less by accident … but he did lay a free ticket on me. That’s why I was there at all.

It’s a gift. Not just the free ticket — the whole thing. Music itself, being able to wiggle my fingers adequately, being able to hear adequately, the fact that I was lucky enough to study music theory while I was still in high school, the fact that my parents were willing to drive me to Berkeley every week, and later to San Francisco, to take cello lessons, the fact that I happened to know some people so I got a job in 1975 at a music magazine where I later got paid to do note-for-note transcriptions of jazz piano solos (there just isn’t a better way to improve your ear), the fact that I have all this amazing music software on my hard drive, none of which I had to pay for — oh, and the piano itself, a very nice Yamaha C3, which I did in fact pay for, though I got a special deal because I had a friend at Yamaha. Damn! If I ever forget to be grateful, somebody please put on a size 12 hobnail boot and kick my ass.

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