I used to be a ravenous listener. It’s astonishing to me now to think of how much of my teens and twenties were spent with enormous headphones clamped over my ears, poring over scores when I could get a hold of them, trying to imagine how each sound looked on the page when I couldn’t. I always emerged from trips to Patelson’s with an armload of piggy-bank busting scores, music from a thousand years ago, from another continent, from around the corner, from last week.
For my doctoral exam, we had a listening list of over 800 pieces, all genres, all eras. I’m the only person I knew at the time who tracked down recordings of every piece and dutifully listened, taking notes.
But something happened in my early thirties – I had had enough. My mind was so full of other people’s music, it was time to peel it all away so I could hear my own voice.
Now I spend almost no time listening to recordings – maybe one or two new disks a month. I feel guilty about this, like I’m shirking some terrible responsibility. I also rationalize that I more than make up for it by attending 50-80 live performances a year.
The risk I am taking is that of being out of touch with what other people consider the most important artistic issues of the day. The benefit? I’m playing my own music in my head every minute, and each passing year brings me closer to a more precise understanding of the sounds I need to bring to life.
On my more confident days, I believe I laid a strong foundation of repertoire in my early years, and am reaping the rewards of all my careful studies.
On my less confident days? I find myself posting little apologies, like this one, on an infinite number of curves.