So much of my life I practice, proselytize, and preach the joys of making music in community, of rehearsing music in community, of learning music in community and release people from the penance of the practice room playing scales and going over bars 25 and 26 in Rachmaninoff a few hundred times. And yet, isn’t there some joy in playing alone? I had many a sublime moment playing Bach on the pipe organ, alone in a dark church and listening to the echoes of the final chord ring out. And today, after a spirited day of communal music making, I had the Orff Institut theater to myself to prepare for a concert tonight. Just me and a gorgeous Steinway and Bach (always Bach) for warm-up and then digging into Gershwin and Porter and Jobim and Monk for the notes that are mine alone waiting for me to bring them forth. And lo and behold, embraced in a serene Solitude, I indeed found some of them. Will they come out in a half an hour with an audience for witness? I’ll get back to you on that.
Solitude, in all its many faces, has been a lifelong companion and it differs significantly from loneliness. The latter craves company, the former is in company, alone together with the unseen community of distant friends and family, the felt forms of the once known and now departed, the imagined company of those composers, authors, artists who left their legacy and touched us from afar. They need a respite from company to come forth, be it the piano practice room, the study carrel in the library, the moment’s rest on a bench in the park or a far-away hotel room. They’ll never appear on Facebook.
Years back, when I felt some need to keep in touch with some level of performance as a fledgling musician, I tried to trick myself out of nervousness by calling it a “lecture demonstration” and purporting to teach the audience something of jazz style and history. I still do it out of habit, but tonight find myself less inclined to say, “See? This is swing rhythm and this isn’t and listen to these syncopations” and more interested in daring to take the risk of inviting the audience into my attempt to find the notes between the given notes of beautifully crafted melodies and harmonies that are meant for me to find, no didactic message at the other end beyond “Come see what feelings these tones might release in you.”
And it all begins in six minutes. Stay with me, oh Muse!