Sunday, January 15, 2006

profiles in embarrassment

I have to extend an apology to subscribers to the newspaper International Musician, as well as to recipients of the most recent New World Symphony application brochure. (I cringe and apologize doubly if anyone has received both.) Both publications feature a photograph of my somewhat oddly-shaped head in profile; the same image is also on a poster now displayed on Lincoln Road (shown here).

The picture was taken by photographer Simon Hare as part of an exhibit of New World Symphony members' portraits. In most cases, these photos cry out, "Wow, look how gorgeous / charming / fun / orally fixated these orchestra members are with their instruments!" Mine alone seems to carry the subtext: "Wow, what a weirdly molded skull - its freakish curvature seems almost to mimic the proportions of his bass scroll!"

This was precisely what the photographers had in mind, actually. They also took several photos emphasizing how my ears seem to stick out prominently, like the sides of a bass scroll (below). "You must have been made for the instrument," one of the assistants solemnly told me - I might have replied, "Yeah, all I need are some sloping shoulders, jutting ribs, and a big fat ass."

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Anyway, I'm not upset so much as slightly mortified. As a child I always scornfully marvelled at what a strangely shaped cranium my brother had, never quite accepting the fact that we are identical twins and therefore I have the exact same head! I don't know if my childish ego could have handled the shock - I'm only now starting to learn the art of self-mockery. Now that I have to see the photo every day as I go in to practice, though, I may be reaching a point of acceptance. In fact, just a couple of days after these photos were published I came across the following passage in a novel:
Ault had been my idea. I'd researched boarding schools at the public library and written away for catalogs myself. Their glossy pages showed photographs of teenagers in wool sweaters singing hymns in the chapel, gripping lacrosse sticks, intently regarding a math equation written across the chalkboard. I had traded away my family for this glossiness. I'd pretended it was about academics, but it never had been. Marvin Thompson High School, the school I would have attended in South Bend, had hallways of pale green linoleum and grimy lockers and stringy-haired boys who wrote the names of heavy metal bands across the backs of their denim jackets in black marker. But boarding school boys, at least the ones in the catalogs who held lacrosse sticks and grinned over their mouth guards, were so handsome. And they had to be smart, too, by virtue of the fact that they attended boarding school. I imagined that if I left South Bend, I would meet a melancholy, athletic boy who liked to read as much as I did and on overcast Sundays we would take walks together wearing wool sweaters.

- from Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, p. 15

It may be too much to hope that my picture will inspire any such romantic fantasies, but I think perhaps I can serve as a beacon of hope to other musicians with unusual head shapes. They will see the New World Symphony as an orchestra where their bizarrely protuberant profiles and slightly imperfect haircuts will not only be welcomed, but even celebrated. Or else, maybe someone somewhere will put the picture to good use on a dart board. Then all of my embarrassment will not have been in vain.

(photos courtesy Simon Hare Photography)


patty said...

Gee ... and I love the picture! I'm sorry, but I really do. Or maybe I'm not sorry. I guess I'm sorry that you don't like it!

I've never been able to look at myself in pictures and I only timidly and probably foolishly put mine at my site; I'm not a beauty. I'm not cute. I'm just an oboe player. We look weird when we play but I manage to look weird all the time. Sigh. I haven't a clue what my head shape would be without all the hair, but I suspect it would be odd. I'm good at odd.

Anyway, I thought the picture was creative and I did like it.

Matt Heller said...

You're right Patty, I was probably a little harsh. They did do a great job, and probably even captured some quality about me (in addition to oddness) which I don't often show the world. I suppose that's the miracle of what a visual artist does.

Maybe some day I'll be able to say I 'love' those pictures too - I do appreciate them, though, when I'm not feeling too self-conscious. You can see more of Simon Hare's work at his very sophisticated website.

Joe said...

Looks great man!

mkh said...

I think you are being more than a little too hard on yourself, sir. But on reflection, I would probably be just as self-conscious if I -- and my co-workers! -- had to see a photo of me next to our office door every morning.

mkh said...

Another thing: From my personal experience I am afraid that the photo of the trombonist is perhaps too accurate.