When I was four years old I got into an argument with my mother about who was “boss.” I was a relentless and stubborn child and my mother was surprised when I stopped arguing. She thought she’d won the battle for the time being, but I had actually gotten quiet because I was secretly doing math inside my head. I was trying to figure out a sufficient number of years such that she’d be dead but I’d still be alive so that I could then be The Boss. Being satisfied with my calculations, I informed her that in 60 years she’d be dead and I’d only be 64 and then I would be The Boss. Fine, mom. Right now you’re The Boss, but one day you’ll be dead and then my ideas, my opinions, my every thought won’t be so damn unimportant. There will be a day when I’m taken seriously. She knew I’d won because I was a patient child — I was willing to wait 60 years and for my mother to be dead if it meant I got my way. I didn’t need to argue with her anymore, at least about being The Boss.
And then the waiting began. When people asked me the most annoying of all questions — What do you want to be when you grow up? — I had my answer: I wanted to be 64. I didn’t want to be a doctor or lawyer or teacher or astronaut or rock star or Olympian or any of the other things kids are expected to want to be. I wanted to be old. I wanted to be old because I thought that then, finally, someone would take me seriously. Someone, even if it was just one person, wouldn’t think that what happened inside my head was the ridiculousness of a child. I spent my childhood observing the logical inconsistency of adults, their lack of what I thought were simple calculations, their lack of creative and original thoughts. Always, I would try to participate in their conversations and, always, I was ignored. My thoughts were so unimportant that they wouldn’t even tell me off for pointing out how wrong they were!
At the time I didn’t realize this, but my mother was always listening and always thought that what I had to say was very important. She told me later that much of what I was saying she plain and simple didn’t understand (I talked about math a lot) or her experience was very different (such as matters concerning spirituality) that she couldn’t always participate in useful conversations with me. She did everything she could to make sure I never stopped thinking because it was all she really felt she could do.
I ended up spending my childhood and teenage years trying to be someone that people respected, but still no one ever listened to me. They praised me, expected me to be happy with that, but no one ever gave a shit about a single thought passing through my head. Not even my friends. One girl I knew in high school summed up my interactions with the rest of the world very succinctly: “You’re weird, but people get used to you.” Such has been my life since the day I was born.
Now that I’m an actual (okay, pretend) adult, things have changed somewhat. But only if people know three things about me: my age, that I’m married, and that I have a degree already. Otherwise, people assume that I’m in high school and uneducated. People will talk down to me and treat me just how I was treated as a child, the you’re a kid; you’re not important attitude permeating the atmosphere the whole time. Then, as soon as people find out those three pieces of information, they start treating me like I’m a real person.
And now we get to relate this all to music:
Eric Edberg has been posting a lot recently about young people and the outdated establishment of the symphony orchestra. In his post today, he again talked about this divide between the establishment and young people. I talked about my experience with Sacramento’s own philharmonic, which I’ve also blogged about, although I did not talk about the Facebook experience I had with the phil such as I communicated in the comments section of Eric’s post. If you guys don’t follow his blog, you really should — he puts a lot of energy into thinking not just about why big professional orchestras are failing but also what is succeeding in the classical world. I don’t know about the rest of you fellow beginners, but I’m planning on this information to someday be relevant to my cello life.
The point of this is that young people (and in reference to audiences of big philharmonics, I mean everybody up through the baby boomer generation) don’t seem to matter to the establishment. We know this (or at least most of us do, I think.) But here’s the part that’s really irking me, the part that’s relevant to my cello life RIGHT NOW: This is the education that we’re all receiving, an education that is geared toward us being part of this rapidly dying establishment. So far I’ve really loved learning out of Feuillard — it’s been so much better of an experience than I ever could have had with Suzuki and I really have enjoyed playing most of the pieces in there — but all this is preparing me for is this outdated mode of musical existence. And, IT’S NOT WHAT I’D REALLY LIKE TO BE PLAYING ANYWAY! I mean, I love Baroque music. I’m happy to play it. But music from Classical and Romantic composers? BARF. Mozart? Schumann? Not for me. I can’t think of a single piece by either one that has moved me emotionally. I’m just being groomed to go off and study music performance at a university (assuming I get good enough, which I’m planning on no matter how much time it takes.)
I keep looking for some way that someone like me can get involved in playing other kinds of music before the completion of a formal education. So far everything has failed. It totally sucks, but I think at this point it would be foolish to venture off into the unknown unaided by a teacher. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t start playing cello because I like classical music; I started playing cello because I like the sound of the instrument better than any other. Part of me feels like I’m just a misfit in the cello world, just as I always have been in the whole rest of my life. Starting at 26 certainly goes a long way toward making me feel that way. But I can deal with that, especially with all you awesome cello bloggers out there. What I really can’t deal with is this constant feeling that I’m learning the wrong music, that what I’m learning isn’t relevant any longer. I feel like I’m at a wonderful, impressionable, formative time in the learning process and I wish that something could be done with it other than just shoving me into this bursting-at-the-seams classical box. Not only is it becoming increasingly irrelevant, it’s just not ME.
In the cello world I’m like a child still. I think there are very few people will take what I think about this seriously (I’ve been playing for only a year — what could I possibly know?) In fact, when most musicians talk to me after finding out I’ve been playing cello for so little time, they actually slow down their speech and raise their voices as if they were talking to a toddler. That’s how not-seriously people like to take an adult beginning instrumentalist. But I can’t help but feel from the discussions happening on Jon‘s blog and Eric‘s blog that I’m not wrong about this.