I spent a lot of time last weekend with pianist Claude Frank, who was in town to play a recital. I’ve known Claude for about fifteen years, and I always look forward to conversations with him. He is a witty, charming, and very observant fellow.

 height=This time, conversation was a bit more difficult; the death of his wife, pianist Lillian Kallir, this past fall had clearly left its mark. It was tough to see him feeling low.

As usual, though, we spent a lot of time talking about music. One would think that we should have almost nothing to say to one another on this subject: in Claude’s world, music peaked with Beethoven and has been in steady decline ever since. Naturally, I have a very different perspective.

And yet I always find our exchanges fascinating. In some ways, I prefer to talk about music with someone whose perspective is very different from mine. Rather than being aggravating, I find it helps me clarify my viewpoint, and it reminds me how subjective music is.

I like to think that this characteristic would make me a very bad president.

In Emerson’s words: “Shall I tell you the secret of a true scholar? It is this: every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.”

I can’t speak for scholars, but if I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life with myself, I’d just as soon welcome some sharply dissenting voices into my head from time to time, if only to fend off tedium.

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