Last weekend, the piano department held a celebration in honor of the conservatory's 150th anniversary. There were 10 piano recitals over the course of two days, totaling to about 700 minutes of music. All 70 piano majors were scheduled to perform, along with 12 current and retired piano faculty. I was scheduled to play Liszt's Ballade No. 2 in the second concert, a wonderful, dramatic work that I've fallen in love with.
However, for several weeks, I've been struggling to see my place in the world as a musician. While others are off training to be doctors, engineers, or teachers, I sometimes feel selfish for wanting to be a performer; while others are spending their winter terms doing community service projects or internships with a direct impact, I feel selfish that mine consists only of practicing. How much can I give, as a musician? There are times that I question what the point is - practicing hours and hours a day, investing my life and my love into this wonderful art form, and then performing. How much impact does that really have? I'm not curing cancer, not fighting world hunger. What am I doing? Even though I love music with every bone in my body, with so many pianists on the planet, does the world even need my music? I don't believe that my life serves any greater meaning than anyone else's, or that I have more to offer the world than anyone else. So then why do I let people sit in a concert hall and watch me play? Is that selfish?
On Saturday, I was relieved of many of these thoughts and anxieties. As I sat at the piano, I closed my eyes and allowed emotion to pour from my fingers, not worrying about the octave leaps or the heavy chords coming up. And I felt so in love, so fulfilled; I felt God there next to me. But what truly struck me was what happened after the performance. An elderly man sauntered up to me slowly, a radiant smile on his face. He showered me with praise that I didn't feel at all deserving of just as his wife, wearing a piano scarf, came up and stood beside him. She told me that they had been deeply touched and would never forget my performance. To hear that my music made such an impact on them was so deeply touching for me to hear. She went on to explain that her husband was Joseph Schwartz, an 82-year-old retired Oberlin piano professor and that she had once been his student. The conversation continued for another 30 minutes as they shared their wisdom and knowledge of the professional music world; their involvement in my music and my future truly touched me. The encounter reminded me that my music can have an impact on others, as can anyone's who loves it enough.
I found that when an audience sees that you love something so much, they are inspired by that. They don't even have to understand the piano music to be moved by it. If you love music, you owe that love to the world. It's your job to spread it. You can touch people. You can affect people. Playing music that you love is still an act of giving.
After my own performance, I tried to attend as many other recitals as I could, to hear what other people were giving; it was incredible. After nine student recitals, there was a faculty recital on Sunday evening. We got to hear all of the piano professors perform, including my own amazing piano teacher, Alvin Chow, with his wife, fellow piano professor Angela Cheng. They were extraordinary.
If you look close enough you can see my whole studio sitting together in the front two rows supporting our teacher! We even got to embarrass him with a standing ovation at the end.
What was also truly exciting was watching Joseph Schwartz, the 82-year-old retired piano professor who I talked to the previous day, with hearing aids, arthritis, and blindness in one eye, walk slowly onto the stage with the most radiant smile on his face. He performed Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 -- not your beginner level piece! And his power, expression, and control at the piano just completely blew us all away.
"That's what I want to be when I grow up," my friend next to me said as he finished. Me too. It was so amazingly inspiring to see someone at age 82 with so many things that could hold him back, still playing the piano. Not because he has to, but because it's what he loves to do. I was more than touched by his performance and inspired by his love for music, and if his music could have such an impact on me and mine on him, it only proves that music is so important. The world needs your music.
After the concert, we took a studio picture -- we had to photoshop two people in, but for once, we're finally all together! I talked a whole bunch about my amazing studio in an earlier post, but I love them so much -- we have so much fun and everyone is so amazingly supportive -- and could not be more overjoyed that I chose this school and this piano studio and that we get to share our music with one another.
Immediately after this photo was taken, we consumed lots of piano cake. Yum.
It was a fabulous weekend, and I couldn't be more thrilled to be an Oberlin piano major. Sometimes you really do need to take a step back and think "What am I really doing?" but even more so, sometimes you need to take a step forward and embrace what your gut is telling you, what you love, what you feel you're being called to do. Because if you love the music, others will too.
(Photography credits to Dale Preston)