Having it "all"
Thirty-plus years ago, on a February evening, I dashed across 57th street in Manhattan in blue jeans, weaving like a typical New Yorker between beeping cabs, with a black velvet dress napping over my arm and a satchel stashed with music and various sundries. I was about to give my debut recital at what was then called Carnegie Recital Hall, and in my excited state of fantasy and harmless vanity, I felt that all of New York was poised and waiting to hear me play! Now, with all the warmth and sentiment of retrospect, I have never forgotten that roller-coaster of emotions - from the buoyant joys of communicating the great masterworks to a responsive audience, to the nerve-ridden pits of self-doubt beforehand; these are the defining anomalies and paradoxes in the life of every performing artist, no matter how experienced.
This past February, I revisited the scene of my debut and performed a solo piano recital on the very evening of my 70th birthday. I thus transformed a somewhat astonishing date into a cause for celebration and a thrilling challenge. Instead of giving way to melancholy, I reinvigorated my lifelong passion as I stepped onstage at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.
The many years in between were exemplary of the life of a woman who wanted it all.
I now know, after speaking to so many concert pianists as Senior Editor of Clavier, that ill artists struggle. We all do our own version of a perpetual balancing act between domestic and professional lives, usually multiple professional lives. Some artists have eschewed any personal life and given everything to their art; others struggle with health issues and financial considerations. The lucky ones among us can look back or forward and acknowledge that we never had to let go of our dreams of being a pianist, nor our identities as pianists (a noble word and profession, and as I see it, a member of a rarified species, homo pianisticus). The happy irony is that the implicit struggles that come with those uncompromising choices often give us as much as they exact from us.
Working as an editor and writer, performing, and being a wife, mother, and teacher during those years was a miraculous act of jigsaw-puzzling. In fact, the interlocking elements of everything I did seemed to illuminate and clarify all the other facets of my life! When I interviewed world-renowned artists, they spoke to me as a colleague, sharing more insights than they might have, had I been "just" a journalist from People magazine. Those insights were then recycled by me into my own work at the piano and imparted to my students at every lesson. When I wrote, readers returned to me with added insights and sharing, and ultimately, friendships, new opportunities, and invitations. In the end, my life became a giant tapestry of multi-colored strands. I learned firsthand that the person who weaves together all the creative and enriched facets of her life, fulfilling passions, is happier and more interesting to those around her, including her family.
In a serendipitous way, that debut recital was an event that led me through a maze of corridors, conveying me from one exciting episode of my life to the next. Little did I realize that a diary I kept of that debut recital would be published as a book in several editions (The Anatomy of a New York Debut Recital: A Chronicle), in spite of my conviction that it was all too personal to share. Little did I know that after its publication J would receive hundreds of letters from pianists - from the fearful "closet" ones to world-famous ones including Glenn Gould (who was planning to write a sequel to my book just before he died). Finally, as Senior Editor of Clavier for nearly twenty years, many of the concert artists I interviewed became friends and mentors, sometimes even coaching me before concerts. They also shared their own private tales of backstage anxieties, and I eventually came to realize that all artists struggle, whether from external circumstances, health issues, luck, or chance. That knowledge fortified my own belief in myself.
I love to encourage young artists and remind them that they do not necessarily have to give up dreams; that there are unconventional ways of getting around in the music world. I never had a manager, I never had a separate studio in which to concentrate and work, I often had to give up opportunities to play out-of-town when my children were young, and there was never a period of time that the piano could be the be-all and end-all in my life. or did I ever want it to be.)
In spite of these exigencies, eventually the recognition and endorsement every artist needs did come to me with fine reviews, performance opportunities, and an invitation from the Steinway Company to join the distinguished roster of Steinway Artists. And so my life as a pianist has bubbled on.
When I went back to the refurbished hall again, with its crystal chandeliers and curvaceous Steinway concert grand piano center stage, I felt elated, as though I were coming home, full circle, after an incredibly rich journey. Reassuringly, the same old-world elegance, non-existent in any of the other concert venues in the city, still prevails. Carnegie has always been, for me, the most exciting spot in all ofNew York City. Whenever I attend a concert in either of the original two halls, I am imbued with a sense of the mystique and the perpetual cavalcade of intrepid artists mounting its stages. No doubt many of these artists have struggled and juggled and prevailed, in their attempts, to come closer to "having it all."