Monday, December 11, 2006

checking back in...

It's been a busy and very enlightening week at the New World Symphony - conductor Roger Norrington was in town to conduct an all-Schumann program, along with pianist Robert Levin. Then the past couple of days, the bassist Paul Ellison has been giving lessons to our section. These might not be household names outside the orchestral world - I'm never quite sure how opaque my little bubble is! - but they are all brilliant and extremely thoughtful musicians, with a lot to impart.

So a lot of ideas have been fermenting in my mind (if that metaphor works.) I tend to think of my mind as a vat of swirling liquids, insoluble matter and mysterious gases. At some point, I always hope, some chemical reaction will transform it into a nice, cohesive solution, and all my confusion and doubts will dissolve and escape. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if this metaphor has any basis in chemistry, or in reality!

Facing reality seems to be a problem for me lately. I'm just sort of coming to the realization that I've been depressed for some time now - lethargic, unmotivated, just generally down. I have this friend, he's often very depressed, and whenever I ask him how he is, he responds "About the same." I never know how to answer that, whether it's a good thing or I should express sympathy! I know what he means though, in a sense, since I think most people's moods are calibrated to remain at a certain level. We might have good days and bad days, great victories or awful setbacks, but somehow we always return to our default mood. Within that, though, there are definite cycles, and for whatever reason lately I've been at a low point.

Depression takes different forms for everyone, and we all have our own ways of overcoming it. Still, it was inspiring for me to hear Roger Norrington talk about Schumann's depressions, and how studying Back and then writing his 2nd Symphony allowed him to recover. Schumann had two definite characters within himself: one energetic, forceful, masculine persona he called Florestan, and a reserved, pensive, feminine persona he named Eusebius. The whole symphony can be heard as a dialogue between Florestan and Eusebius, each imbalanced and destructive in their own way. Then there are these episodes of Bach-inspired counterpoint that seem to bring him back in balance, and to lead the two sides into a healthy synthesis.

I love the idea that creativity and work can make us whole and heal us. Maybe because I don't want to go through therapy or take medication, and work is the biggest and most pressing thing in my life right now! It's difficult to imagine reaching some cathartic breakthrough as in Schumann's 2nd - then again, that success story must have been short-lived, since later he returned to a deep depression and finally committed suicide.

At the concert the other evening, I sat in the audience to listen to Robert Levin play the Schumann piano concerto, which was spectacular. A man sitting next to me, as Levin was beginning his encore, noticed that I was a musician in the orchestra and began talking to me. "I sometimes wonder what you'll all do next, after being part of something so fabulous, whether anything else you do will ever compare." I didn't respond, since the encore had already begun, one of Schumann's virtuosic solo piano pieces. Still, I was thinking about his statement - how right he was in a sense, since we are all fortunate to be doing this, playing wonderful music together in a fantastic place. And yet for young musicians, or for any musician, I'm finding, it's never enough. We all have goals, hopes and dreams that we depend on to drive us forward to better things - while at the same time they threaten to crush us in failure. So there's this uneasy equilibrium, in which on any given day I might swell with hope or crumble into despair.

I didn't say any of this to my fellow audience member. I just listened to the rest of Robert Levin's brilliant encore, which overflowed with character. Then I turned to the man and said, "Thank you," and answered his questions about where I'm from and what I play, and went back on stage to warm up during intermission. Sometimes expressing all this stuff can be overwhelming and emotionally draining work, I guess - just like playing Schumann's big manic depressive Second Symphony!


E.C.D. said...

Hey Matt,
I completely understand where you're coming from in this post.
However, you never have to be at a low point about your writing ability, or about having the chance to work with so many great people at NWS. Remember...there are people that clean public restrooms (or worse) for a living! We've never met, but I do love your blog, and I cherish every moment of playing with all of you every time I've been called down to sub during the last few years.

Matt Heller said...

It's so good to hear from you, and I appreciate all the encouraging words! Even writing about these emotions makes me feel silly and spoiled, since I am so fortunate in so many ways! I'm hoping maybe just taking an objective view and having some self awareness will help me snap out of my self-pitying funk. I think of it as a kind of therapy maybe, 'the blogging cure.'

I hope I do get to meet you - in the meantime I'll be catching up with your blog as well. Best wishes!

Manola Blablablanik said...

Wow, there was a lot to think about in that post. I love how you tie music to things we can all understand.

I think depression hits very creative people all the time. The key is to manage it and balance it. Being an artist and yet still enjoying life and keeping things in perspective. I know I've struggled with this too, as a writer. I guess for a musician, it may be thinking about that first moment in which you fell in love with music and wanted to "do" it. And then realizing that there are moments of "doing" and just "being," which is true for all of us, actually.

Thanks for sharing.