Monday, April 02, 2007

Hal Robinson and the wonders of fruit

Usually in the days after an audition I don't feel much like playing - I'd rather sleep or read, give myself some time to recover from all the psychic trauma perhaps. These past couple of days though, I have felt like playing. Yesterday on the plane I even pulled out my copy of the Bach Suites, trying to come up with some phrasing and motive ideas for a recital I'm dreaming of doing over the summer.

Of course, now that I have some good audition news, it seems like there is endless array of people I need to share it with, and a lot of today was spent just writing e-mails, catching up with friends, and enjoying lots of hugs and congratulations. All pretty nice things, and it's hard to choose practicing the bass over friends and hugs! Still, I found a little bit of time in the middle of the day, and it's nice to still feel that burning need to practice - it really doesn't go out after you win a job, in case you were worried, I can vouch for it. It maybe even grows stronger.

Hal Robinson, the principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, is in town for a few days giving lessons. Though I didn't find out until 9:55, I got the 10 am time slot this morning by default - everyone else who was in town signed up for the later times. I only got home around 2:30 am this morning, and so at 9:55 am I was sort of staggering down Washington Avenue with my bass and stool, not knowing when my lesson would be but kind of suspecting. It was fine though, because Hal invited me to go sit down somewhere to have breakfast and talk - among the few things I felt capable of doing!

We walked over to a cafe on Collins, La Provence, and talked about stuff we'd discussed in lessons over the past few years. Hal comes down to New World quite a bit, and he always leaves with a few decisive changes that need to be made - a more selectively applied vibrato, a wider dynamic range and better supported sound production, a relaxed, smooth breathing that's not going to interfere with the musical message. Taking a lesson with Hal always kind of feels like you're a package that's been carefully inspected, weighed and considered, and then the most glaring flaws are clearly, calmly listed. It never feels like a rejection, but like those few things
have just been waiting, festering even, and now finally I can make some corrections and get everything in place. So in short, lessons with Hal are always kind of a revelation - a little bit scary, a little bit hard to face, but always instructive if you can deal with that much honesty!

Still, I was happy to use my lesson time to talk with Hal, and actually the conversation was in some ways just as instructive as a lesson. I went over some of my experiences at the audition, and stories I'm still planning on getting into a blog post or two very soon - it's funny how these things arrange themselves into stories, as you tell them over and over again! I definitely feel like sharing audition experiences is a useful exercise though, particularly after the whole Dan Wakin article and everything that's come of that. And of course it was nice, and somewhat unprecedented, to have happy, gratifying stories to tell, and lots of positive hopes and plans to describe.

I mentioned I'd like to start teaching a bit, not anything huge but perhaps a few students, and he agreed that it's something anyone should want to do, to give back and share some of the insights we've all struggled so much to attain, and that he thought I would be especially well suited, having gone through so much and learned from so many great people these last few years. And I told him I had been thinking of putting together a recital this summer, without quite forming any definite plans - after just a few minutes, he got me to describe what kind of program I was going for, come up with some ideas of where and how to present it, and suddenly it seemed like it was taking shape. I was sort of shocked that a short amount of time spent with this man, even without a bass in anyone's hands, could still be so productive. He said he was feeding off a buzz that I was giving off, in all my sleep-deprived and audition-delirious ramblings, but I was definitely getting an energy and resolve from him as well.

Anyway, to come to the point - fruit. Hal ordered a fruit cup at La Provence, passing on all those luscious-looking pastries, and I tried to follow his lead in this as well, getting the granola with fruit and yogurt. At some point in the conversation, we stopped talking about music and auditions and plans, and Hal just started rhapsodizing about fruit. It sounds strange to describe, and it was a very odd moment in a certain sense - odd but at the same time incredible and moving.

"Fruit - it's just so sweet, so wholesome - so natural. It really is a gift." I'm paraphrasing, I can't remember his exact words. But if you know Hal you know that voice, that sense of quiet, firm conviction - that voice I've hung all my hopes and attention on, trying to read in it all the puzzles of my flaws and my musical destiny. And here was that voice, taking quiet, simple pleasure in the simplest of all things - a cup of fruit. I'm not sure he was intending it as a part of my "lesson", or even if he was thinking of our breakfast as a lesson at that point.

But I kind of feel like anything could be a lesson for me at this point - I'm not waiting to hear some pronouncement from some authority being paid by the hour - and here was a reminder, it seemed to me, to not let the big successes or failures shake or change you. Don't get rattled and frazzled by all the loud noises and grand gestures, because the important stuff, the joyful, wonderful, vital stuff, is probably getting lost somewhere underneath. It's the quiet, simple things, things that sometimes need to be pointed out and focused on before we even notice them - those things really make life a pleasure. Things like a cup of fruit on a beautiful morning in South Beach. As Hal said, it's a gift.

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