Between Thanksgivings

I’ll start with a quote, because all great blog posts begin with a quote.

This particular quote comes to us from Karl Paulnack, Director of the Boston Conservatory‘s Music Division, in his 2004 welcome address to the school’s incoming freshmen:

If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life.  Well, my friends, someday at eight PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary.  Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

End quote.  Keep it in mind.  I’ll get back to it in a bit.


Forty-six days separate Canadian and American Thanksgivings, which sounds like a long time, but in reality, those forty-six days seemed to pass as though each were chasing the next at gunpoint.

Canadian Thanksgiving falls on a Monday — in the motherland, this coincides with an observance known as Columbus Day, which serves little purpose other than shutting down the post office — making for a three-day weekend that pales in comparison to American Thanksgiving’s five.  I celebrated in a triptych of dinners: vegan tacos, duets, and oboe reeds with a lovely friend on Saturday; a potluck and Cards Against Humanity (Canadian expansion, naturally) with quintet members on Sunday; and cashew-cauliflower soup, pumpkin pie, and Friends (“The One with Joey’s Interview”) with my fantastic roommate on Monday.

During Sunday’s festivities, I learned about the following, slightly traumatizing PSA that aired throughout western Canada in the early Nineties, which I am sharing here because viewing it is — truly — a life experience that everyone ought to have:

Thanksgiving is a time for many things: food, friends, gratitude — and, apparently, Clinton-era, public health-related puppetry — which is why Day 33 of my inter-Thanksgiving countdown was such a horrifying antithesis to the spirit of the season.

Day 33 was November 13.  

The attacks in Paris and Beirut were appalling points along a seemingly endless stream of violence, and it’s easy — so easy — to feel removed, desensitized, as these acts of terror unfold with impossible frequency across coasts and beyond borders — faraway: therefore, unreal.  By Day 45, my mind was on the menu for the American Thanksgiving dinner I would be hosting the following day; my grocery budget; which of my invitees would be in attendance, and which had other obligations.

Over a vegan feast of tofu alla francese, maple-apple brown rice, and lentil stuffing, my dinner party gossiped and Googled, giggled and griped in alliterative amity, until it was time to head over to campus and watch our bassoonist colleagues perform an informal recital.  The evening was a lovely one — a Thanksgiving to be thankful for, spent surrounded by kind and talented friends with whom I have the privilege of making music every day.

And that, perhaps, is what I am thankful for most of all — the privilege of making music every day.  Every day, I get to study and explore and create in this realm of notes and rhythms and feelings; I get to inhabit this bizarre, beautiful, unpredictable sphere and pursue my passion, with a loving support system of family and friends, guided by brilliant instructors, alongside equally impassioned colleagues.  get to do that.  Me.

Selfish, isn’t it?  And yet —

Remember that quote, from way back at the top of this post that you have so patiently scrolled through?  Remember the mind that is confused, the heart that is overwhelmed, the soul that is weary — that enters the concert hall looking to be made whole, a task which can be achieved by the artists on stage, should they perform their duty well?  Another quote from Karl Paulnack:

A musician is more of a paramedic than an entertainer.  I’m not interested in entertaining you; I’m interested in keeping you alive.  Fully alive.  We’re a lot like cardiac surgeons; we hold people’s hearts in our hands every day.  We just use different instruments.

Just as it’s easy to distance oneself from the world’s battlefields and scars, so it’s easy to forget this — that creating beautiful things isn’t just a job, but a responsibility; that the people who turn their ears to our music will be touched and changed in ways we may never fully know.

I’ve been playing oboe for over ten years.  It’s been far too long since the last time I walked on stage and thought about anything other than the idiosyncrasies of my reed, the difficulty of a sixteenth-note run, or whether the chilled air of the concert hall will affect the pitch of my tuning A.

This post has been long and rambling and perhaps a bit maudlin, and still I have not come to any particular moral or conclusion.  I suppose I’ll end with two items: first, a pianist performing outside the site of the Bataclan bombing, before an audience united in mourning and in music.

And second: My heartfelt thanks.  For everything.

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