June 6th, 2010 :: Writing Days
My latest column in American Music Teacher
has just hit the mailboxes, and I have been humbled by the outpouring of response. Readers have written to share their own frustrations and disillusionment with the so-called musical establishment. It has been a thrill to check e-mail the last week and hear what you have to say on the topic. Clearly, there are a lot of rebels out there. None of us are alone.
As it happens, this column is my last one for AMT. I had a two year agreement with the magazine, which was then extended by a year. This issue marks the final one for now. It has been quite a privilege to muse out loud in such a forum. I certainly don't plan to stop writing (any one have an inside track with a publisher?); I will stay faithful to this blog, and I'm sure that from time to time my thoughts will appear either in AMT or somewhere else.
For the many, many responses you have sent during my Marking Time
tenure, Thank You.
It has been a true honor to be on the receiving end of your stories. The last three years have been quite a ride.
Here's to the rebels everywhere.....
PS. One reader writing this week forwarded this link
to a music video on YouTube. Thanks to YouTube, we have access to all kinds of wonderful (and some less-than-wonderful!) expressions of music-making. We all need these reminders from time to time, that music-making is far bigger than the small, rigid box of our piano teacher profession. This video link I received this last week is truly joyful. Check it out
May 23rd, 2010 :: Writing Days
When we moved to Boston we had a thousand books. When we left Boston, we had acquired at least a thousand more. Moving from our tiny apartment in Kenmore Square under the famous red, white and blue Citgo sign, to an even tinier one (how was it possible to downsize from 400 square feet?) on Beacon Hill, it was the books that almost undid us. My friend Missy, visiting from Missouri, cheerfully helped us lug boxes and boxes of books up to the second floor, and together we unloaded them on every possible surface. We piled them high in the bookcases, stacked them in precarious stacks on the piano, shoved them onto the wide 18th century windowsills. "You know, Amy," she remarked after several hours. "Most people don't have this many books."
When we moved to Albuquerque, the moving company we hired did everything short of refusing to move the books. Coming out to do the estimate, the man in charge of determining our "weight" announced, "You don't want us to move your books. It'll double your price. You want to box them up yourself and mail them media rate. It'll save you money." And he hadn't even seen our two offices brimming with music. Determined to stay inside our moving budget, we complied with his suggestion and boxed and then hauled--on foot no less!-600 pounds of books to the post office to be shipped to New Mexico. It may have saved us money, but it made no sense to me that this method was cheaper and more practical than putting the books on the truck headed straight to our new address in the desert.
Within 24 hours of arriving in the city, I am reminded of how Boston's bookstores are my downfall. Just before we left, our handyman had installed another set of bookcases in our study, making a beautiful wall of bookshelves just waiting to be filled. A mere hour and a half after arriving to Boston, we stumble into Trident Bookstore on Newbury street, a favorite haunt. Back in the day, I spent many an hour there sifting through the shelves, ducking in after a long day of work for a late night bowl of soup. I waited out most of the great "Nor'easter" of 2001 in a corner window, reading and writing and watching the snow come down on the almost deserted street outside. I whiled away many Sunday mornings in that cafe eating pancakes and writing letters.
This trip I leave Trident with two of the four hardcover books I will manage to purchase in the first two days in Boston. Hardcover books are heavy, as Matt -- waving his Kindle loaded with dozens of books -- gleefully reminds me as I lug my volumes around in my over-weighted shoulder bag. This is only the beginning. The next day, we spend a morning wandering the almost familiar-and-yet-not-quite halls and rooms of the Museum of Fine Arts. Where's the Monet I remember in this room? Wait! They've moved the Cassatts. That Renoir I love is no longer where I think it should be. When we lived here, I had a membership to the MFA, and spent countless hours in that building. With a membership pass, I could justify coming in for even a few minutes to stare at a single painting before dashing out into my busy life again. I used to curl up on the couches under the Sargent murals and write. I thought I knew that museum like the back of my hand, the paintings becoming not just acquaintances, but dearly beloved friends. A morning here is good for my museum-starved soul. I live in a place rich in the visual arts, something I appreciate, but I miss these collections housed on the East Coast.
I have favorite paintings all over this museum, my dad's game of picking just one "to take home" from every room a strong habit. My favorite Sargent painting probably isn't the famous Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, on loan right now to a museum in Spain. Of course, that is a haunting work, flanked as it is with the two huge blue and white vases portrayed in the painting. But I love more the small portrait of a fellow artist painting in his bedroom. Around him are the messy signs of living---tangled sheets (so many colors of white!) flung around the bed and draped on the floor. This one, quiet and domestic, an artist at work gets me every time.
Afterwards, we are scurrying to lunch in Chinatown in the drizzle that had set in for the duration (the weather a perfect foil to my desire to start sobbing the minute the plane touches the ground), when we remembered a great used bookstore off on a side street downtown: Brattle Book Store. One of the oldest bookstores in the country, the sign reads. Inside the place is crowded, stuffed with treasures. My head reels trying to take it in. There is an entire shelf of books about clocks. As we browse, a woman at the counter noisily fusses at the taciturn store owner, "....just closed because they can't handle the rent. But you must have a high rent. How can you stay in business?" "We own the building," the man answers curtly. "But the mortgage? This place can't possibly cover the mortgage, can it? Will you close too?" Her voice is grating. "We aren't closing," he barks at her. I don't blame him, ready to strangle the woman without an ounce of social decorum myself.
The point is well taken however. One of our favorite bookstores, the legendary Victor Hugo on Newbury Street, has closed since we were here. We knew this, having read about it in the newspaper some years ago. Walking down Newbury, we try to remember which storefront it was, but all the businesses with their identical-looking, trendy clothing look exactly the same. Nothing about their sleek interiors hint at their previous life as a dusty old bookshop.
The absence of Victor Hugo isn't the only thing different. Boston is both eerily exactly the same and strangely not. We keep stumbling upon places we loved that we had forgotten about completely. I have probably spent literally weeks of my time on earth in the Cafe Expressos littered around the city. Matt and I used to sit in the one across from Boston University together. One summer large cafe lattes were two for the price of one. There was another one in a Newbury Street storefront basement. I could read the entire Sunday paper over a pot of tea and watch the feet go by outside my cozy corner window seat. Regularly, I would pick up a cappuccino on my way to my piano pedagogy class at New England Conservatory, and it was this location that we fell upon on our way to the MFA that first morning. A forgotten treasure.
Like Victor Hugo, some places are gone. Driven out by high rents and a bad economy, or changed or rearranged like the paintings in the MFA. Our favorite restaurant in Chinatown is no more---replaced by an equally good, but much more spiffed up version of the old dive we liked. Filene's Department Store and its infamous basement is shuttered and closed, a major loss that we had somehow missed reading about. Our T stop on Charles street is redone and almost unrecognizable from the shabby station we knew.
But of course, I've changed too in the intervening years since I lived here, and there are moments where the juxtaposition of my present and past selves in this place is particularly startling. One night we are having drinks and oysters in the legendary Four Seasons bar. We are talking, debriefing about the past few busy months and trying to make some sense of our crazy lives. Matt excuses himself to go to the bathroom and I glance out the window and am stunned to see the scene overlooking the Public Garden. I had forgotten where I was, so deeply engrossed as I had been in our conversation. Sitting there, I can almost hear my present and past selves click together.
(Leaving the bar, I see tall vases of formal floral arrangements interspersed with vases filled with long sprigs of rosemary. Rosemary! I have this growing abundantly at home. Next time we have a party I am going to steal this trick and fill cut glasses with rosemary wands. If the Four Seasons can do this and call it flower arranging, so can I.)
As a surprise, Matt has bought tickets to the Beacon Hill Hidden Garden Tour. This is something we did the year we lived on Beacon Hill. The small gardens were a complete surprise, secretly nestled in the alleys and pathways behind the stately town homes. Surprising no one more than myself, now I too am a gardener, weeding and maintaining my own tiny corner of the universe back home. After two days of rain and drizzle, it is a perfect May day---75 degrees and sunny. After the first garden--a minuscule area behind the Church of the Advent, Matt scoffs, "You'd be on this tour after one year." Secretly, I agree, if for no other reason that this neighborhood has size in its favor; farming my 1/4 acre back in New Mexico suddenly looks ambitious indeed. But I could so fall for these beds of hostas, the dozens of variations in green are heartbreaking, the shade gardens are stunningly beautiful. We can't do any of this in the desert, our gardens will never be a study in the color green, every square inch baked with high altitude sun. Even more than the miniature patches of green, I love the glimpses into the homes with their cozy basement kitchens and sitting rooms. Certainly, these are nothing like the Beacon Hill apartment I knew and lived in. Every centimeter of these places is wallpapered with pastel florals; I find myself rebelliously wanted to take a bucket of Mexican orange-yellow or deep purple to throw on the walls just to offset the sophisticated stuffiness. By the looks of things, everyone has be to willing to hang portraits of early American forefathers in their dining rooms, sit on couches upholstered with large pink flowers, and eat every meal off old English china, a combination that makes me shudder.
If the decor wasn't enough to make me reconsider the implications of these addresses, the conversations overheard while standing in line in front of 64 Chestnut and 38 Mount Vernon might be reason to give me pause: "....she was beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. But she was mean, and I told my son after they broke up, 'Next time get a girl with a weight problem or something....'" "....so we compromised and we are spending the summer on the Cape...." "....the dogs are at 'camp' for the afternoon. Most days they spend with Jennifer our dog walker, but today...."
And yet, in spite of the reminder of what an exclusive and closed society Boston has always been, I dearly love these quaint cobbled streets with their echos of the ghosts of the rich and colorful past almost visible in the air. Our old---and not in a charming way at all--apartment on the corner of Revere and Grove looks exactly the same. In the next block, we see a young man walking his brand-new bulldog puppy, which delights Matt, who loves the breed, and is on a fruitless campaign to add one to our household. The owner generously allows us to spend 10 minutes playing and holding the puppy, and even I was charmed. (But Matt still can't have one.)
On one hand, I could step back into my old paths of living like I had never left. This city is utterly familiar. "How does it feel to be back?" I ask Matt. "Could you walk back into our old life again?" "It feels exactly right to be here, but Amy, I love our life at home," he says gently. As he says this, my mind scans over the footprints our of lives: our sun-drenched brightly colored house, our glorious garden with a least a hundred roses in bloom right this minute, and the two cats, who at this very moment are no doubt curled up asleep together.
"Amy has a profound connection with Boston." We were having dinner with friends the week before we left. "But it's not like that for me," Matt said. "Home is wherever Amy is." Remember this, I hear something else click softly into place.
May 6th, 2008 :: Writing Days
These days I am writing a regular column for American Music Teacher
, a journal that I have regularly contributed to and to which I also serve on the editorial committee. My writing schedule forces me to work quite far ahead--my deadline for columns is several months ahead of the day it arrives in the local music teacher's mailbox. This means that sometimes when colleagues or strangers write or call to talk to me about something I have written, it may take me a moment to remember which column they might be referring to. For at any given moment, there is the column out there in the most current journal, there are the four or five I might be working on at any time, there is the latest one I have just proofed for the upcoming journal, and
there is the one I am finishing up for the next deadline.
Having said all of that, recently I ran across this quote that pertains quite specifically to the column that is in the April/May issue of AMT
about learning to work without being overly attached to the daily results. While it is written from the religious/spiritual view, it is yet another way of looking at the same issue we all struggle with: how to devote one's life to the work and not to the outcome, whatever our calling may be.
To keep one's eye on results is to detract markedly from the business
at hand. This is to be diverted from the task itself. It is to be
only partially available to demands at hand. Very often it causes one
to betray one's own inner sense of values because to hold fast to the
integrity of the act may create the kind of displeasure which in the
end will affect the results. However, if the results are left free to
form themselves in terms of the quality and character of the act, then
all of one's resources can be put at the disposal of the act itself.
are many forces over which the individual can exercise no control
whatsoever. A man plants a seed in the ground and the seed sprouts and
grows. The weather, the winds, the elements, cannot be controlled by
the farmer. The result is never a sure thing. So what does the
farmer do? He plants. Always he plants. Again and again he works at
it--the ultimate confidence and assurance that even though his seed
does not grow to fruition, seeds do grow and they do come to fruition.
The task of men who work for the Kingdom of God, is to Work
for the Kingdom of God. The result beyond this demand is not in their
hands. He who keeps his eyes on results cannot give himself
wholeheartedly to his task, however simple or complex that task may be.
--From The Inward Journey
by Howard Thurman
Contact Amy Greer at: email@example.com