Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thinking About Work and Pleasure

As I listened to Anne-Sophie Mutter play her violin last night at the Kennedy Center, I wondered how being a concert violinist has affected her love of music? I wondered about how she maintains a normal relationship with her husband Sir Andre Previn, when they are both often giving concerts in different parts of the world? I wondered how very different my life would be had I chosen a career in music, never for a moment dreaming that I could have the accomplishments of this woman or last week's Nadja Solerna-Sonnenberg.

Long ago I realized that something you love can take on a whole new light when it becomes your job. When I was young, I could make anything. I took on projects to make wardrobes for Barbie dolls, to make my cleaning lady a white dress for her church choir, to alter someone else's skirt. But some element of the fun of creating seemed to be lost when money exchanged hands. I could never quite describe it, but it just happened. I continue to love making things for people I love today, but long ago I stopped accepting money.

So how does this relate to music? We actually had a very interesting conversation at my monthly meeting of the "Works in Progress" piano group. One person mentioned that she was working on a piece to play at an upcoming Levine School recital. I asked if she was going to memorize it, to which she replied that she was petrified of getting up to play and having her mind go blank, even though all of the other students (children) would have memorized their pieces.

I made the point that as adults we are entitled to look at things a little differently, to cut ourselves some slack so to speak, in an effort to maximize our enjoyment of the things we do. Maybe this means not doing the 15 minutes of Hannon scales when we sit down to play for an hour. Maybe this means refusing to ever be intimidated by memorization again. Maybe this means playing what we want to play and not what we or someone else thinks would be good for us to play. Maybe it means accepting the fact that most pieces will be less than perfect when we leave them and move on to something else. And definitely it means not feeling guilty for not practicing.

Often when Deborah and I sit down to play together, we both blurt out "You know I just haven't had time to practice since the last time we played together." We laugh and inevitably make some small progress during the session. It is increasingly important to look for the small joy of a beautiful moment and not dwell on the part that continues to be difficult and not sound quite right.

I was overjoyed when my friend Mary gave me two $77 tickets to last night's concert. Anne-Sophie Mutter stood up on the stage (not that far from where I sat), looking absolutely gorgeous and playing 5 Mozart sonatas from memory. She took her bows and did not play an encore. I wondered if just maybe she would rather have been curled up in front of a fire with her husband or perhaps just a good book and a glass of wine. Could she take a break from music without feeling guilty? I wonder...


Blogger Richard said...

Work kills any enthusiasm you might have for something.

The reason is that you do it 8 hours a day, 5 days a week - whether you want to or not. On top of that, you don't have free reign in what you do, somebody else is telling you what to do, when to do it, how to do it (in varying degrees, depending on your level of autonomy).

However, some people seem to like this. I have coworkers who seem to enjoy doing the same task (or type of tasks) over and over again.

I think it is a lot over dosing on a favourite food - say donuts. Heaven must be working in a donut factory, with all the donuts you can eat. Not only that, you are obligated to regularly eat donuts throughout your workday.

How long will you last? A week? A month? A year? At what point would you get fed up of donuts?

6:31 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

We "mortals" all need balance and I suspect professionals who are usually so totally immersed in their one thing, crave being able to just do more ordinary things as you suggested she did after the concert.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Richard: It depends on how many varieties they make!! (Diabetics, if we could, would never tire of eating all the junk we're told not to! They should have used reverse psyhology on us and told us to eat all we wanted...either that or tell us celery was bad for us!)

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is it that makes it "work"? That you get paid for it? I get paid for something that allows me to create, and problem solve, and communicate, and directly affect the people I'm serving: same as Ms. Mutter. My work doesn't happen to me, I create it.
Sure, there are other things I like doing; most of them share characteristics of my profession. Since they are all me, none of them happens at the expense of the other.
Yes, everything I do is at the request of someone else, and serves their goals. How does that make it less worthy or less engaging? Without an other, there would be no reason for a self

9:30 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- I think you get exactly what I am trying to say. Obviously not everyone agrees.

MOI -- It would seem that professionals like this have to work hard to add balance to lives that are often way out of the normal kilter.

Anonymous -- I have read your comment over several times trying to digest it. I think it's the contractual aspect of work that sometimes changes what I do for pleasure. My sewing projects suddenly lost a sense of freedom that was there when the expectation was not clearly stated. If I had to clock in when I started playing the piano, I'll bet it wouldn't be as much fun either. It's freedom and spontaneity that feed my sense of creativity most. I'm often very creative in my job, but my job was never anything but a job.

10:35 PM  
Blogger steve said...

I was a Chef for a long time and I loved that work like you love a Woman. the job requires it. It has taken me many years, hard years, to learn to do a job that I do not love.
I know this about music... I have many musician friends that do not care one bit to listen to music. The joy that I get from listening I do not think I would trade for being able to play.
Its kind of like a Chef sitting around watching cooking shows...not many do!

10:09 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- I think you are agreeing with me, yes? I loved the thought of chefs who turn off cooking shows!

12:55 PM  
Blogger steve said...

oh yes I am in agreement! I used to come home from the kitchenand walk straight to the backyard to Garden to try to get the kitchen out of me.
Even ozzie osbourne, when asked if hw acted at home the way he acts onstage replied
"Do you think a circus Clown comes home and sprays water from a Flower in his lapel into his wifes face instead of a kiss hello?"

11:09 AM  

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