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Musical Virtuosity

Posted on November 21, 2010

I have earlier mentioned my feeble attempt at learning to play guitar.  If there is any benefit from the exercise (aside from the somewhat perverse pleasure of watching the dog and cats leave my study when they see me pick up the instrument), is that I am now even more humbled  by truly accomplished musicians.

Last night we went to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and heard pianist Nelson Friere perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor (part of an all-Schumann concert to honor the 200th anniversary of his birthday — Schumann’s, not Friere’s).  Friere played the whole piece without sheet music in front of him and dazzled the audience with huge runs along the keyboard, his hands flying.  He received a standing ovation upon the concerto’s conclusion.

Perhaps still feeling the effects of the midnight premier of the new Harry Potter film Friday morning, I found Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 to be less satisfying, though it was conducive to a short nap (despite Symphony Hall’s poor leg room and hard seats — did people in the 19th C. have shorter legs and better padded bums?).  The concluding Symphony No. 4 was, in contrast, rousing and had the weight and drama that the more pastoral 1st lacked.  It was a great way to follow Friere and end the night.

The talent and focus on display on the stage illustrated Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that true mastery of anything takes 10,000 hours of practice.  Such virtuosity reminds us what talent and dedication (all of those weeks, months, years of practice) can produce — human beings are capable of such great accomplishment, from Schumann’s composition, to the conducting of legendary Kurt Mazur (entertaining in his own right), to the playing of masterful musicians when inspiration and perspiration come together.  Some of the musicians were specifically recognized by Mazur in a way that was amusingly similar to the way the judges pick out the best show dogs at Westminster, with a barely perceptible gesture to stand and receive the audience’s applause.  To even an untrained ear like mine, they were clearly best of breed last night.

Rick Cook, no doubt recognizing that my voice is better than any instrument I might mishandle, has asked me to do the reading of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” at the Holiday Concert on December 6th.   It will be fun to stand with real musicians, if only to read aloud, and to be part of the flowering of music that Rick has created at SNHU.  With music programs being cut from school budgets and an understandable preoccupation with jobs and careers and work in our discourse over education (given this dreadful economy), the role of music and performance in the lives of our students has never been more important.

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