I had the incredible luck this past week to have a blog post handed (read: e-mailed) to me, fully formed and ready for posting, from one of my colleagues at NUOVA. The following was written by Indra Egan, who was also featured in my post on the Collaborative Pianist Program, and I think it’s absolutely beautiful.
“Tilt your chin down just a little, and a little to the side, now look up at me . . . perfect.”
In a recent photoshoot for my newest set of headshots, I was doing my best to look empowered, fiery and passionate without looking downright angry. It was no easy task. My struggle was evident to my photographer, whose keen eyes missed nothing. He decided to pull out the famous photoshoot small talk, ie. the chat to make you look less constipated. So he asked a few questions about what the shots were for, where I studied, and what I did. Though intensely focused on his work, he seemed genuinely interested. He was relatively new to learning about the world of collaborative piano; it’s not exactly the first profession that comes to mind for most when they think ‘musician’, or even ‘pianist’.
“So you play for singers, eh? Very cool. What’s your dream job?”
It was a simple question, intended to get me to open up and trust him so I’d relax my face and he could get better shots. He probably hoped my eyes would sparkle and open wider with the excitement of talking about my passion. And at first, that’s exactly what happened.
At the words “dream job”, my mind immediately went to opera, and from there, straight to the Met. (Because obviously, the Metropolitan is the best company in the world.) I eagerly began to describe a life in which I worked for the Met as a repetiteur, helping Natalie Dessay and Jonas Kauffman prepare for some of the greatest roles ever written for singers. This had to be my dream job. The highest level of collaborative piano was collaborating with the highest calibre of artists, right? But if this were truly my dream job, then why were all my sentences trailing off?
A volume of Schubert Lieder flashed before my eyes as I thought, but what about art song? I can’t live a life of only opera, as much as I love it. And though I loved repetiteuring, where was the performance element? So I altered my vision a little. I’d be performing in different halls, perhaps Carnegie and the Kennedy Center, in equal partnership with Renee Fleming and – did I dare dream it? – my idol, Joyce DiDonato. And why stop at American halls? We’d tour the world. Europe, Australia, probably some sort of high end sushi bars in Japan with live art song and sake. I was excited to think about how much better my performances of Erlkönig would be in 10 years – the amount of time, I assumed, it would take for all this to come about. I sighed dreamily as I imagined performing Poulenc sets in Paris with the greatest voices of our generation. Yes, throw in a few opera aria concerts to satisfy that side of my passion, and we’d found my dream job.
I opened my mouth to answer, but paused once more. Another image struck me, but it was neither a score nor an opera house. It was a tiny baby, a little girl, wrapped in a warm blanket and cradled in my arms, watching my face with big, curious blue eyes. The scene changed as her father and I watched her playing outside with her brother, her sunburnt face set with a fierce, tomboyish independence that was comically contrasting from her little brother’s fear of messing up his blonde curls. In the evenings, I played the piano not to practice, not to learn repertoire, not to prepare for someone else, but for the sole reason that the children and their father loved to sit on the couch with our dog and listen to me play until they felt sleepy. I’d always wanted a family of my own. I couldn’t tour the world, or even work in New York City, and at the same time create the home I had envisioned for the nonexistent children I already loved.
I was starting to feel frantic now. I took so much pride in being one of the few young adults who actually knew what they wanted to do with their life. Not only was my major also my life’s passion, but I had found a specialty in my field that I loved. And yet here I was, finding myself unable to choose even the imaginary dream job I’d ask for if a genie came along and offered to grant it. Why was I pursuing collaborative piano at all, then, if I had no idea of how or when I would use it?
The answer came to me quickly and in a cliche as I realized: I didn’t have a dream job. And that was okay. Because suddenly, I knew exactly why I was pursuing collaborative piano: it was because I wanted to be a collaborative pianist. And whether that meant I was coaching Elina Garanca on the Seguidille, teaching an Intermediate masterclass in my hometown, performing in recital with Joyce DiDonato in Berlin, accompanying at a local music festival, or vocal coaching at a university, it was all part of it, and the possibilities were endless. Because being a collaborative pianist – or any musician, really – isn’t a position, or a job. It’s who you are, it’s what you make of it, and best of all, it’s ever changing. That’s the beauty in the life of a musician – if you’re up for it. You can chase your dreams of travel and big cities as long as you choose, but if it’s what you want and you feel the time is right, you also have the freedom to find someone you love, settle down, share your music and experiences in other ways, make a beautiful little person, wrap her in a blanket, and cradle her in your arms.