Thursday, February 26, 2009
I had a really fun and difficult time with the topic this week. I've thought about it since it was posted on Sunday. I've roamed my house looking at the items I consider toys.
But I thought most about my pianos. The question I kept coming back to, the one that bothered me, haunted me, and followed me around all week was: Is my Steinway a toy?
Most of us would agree that the little piano below is a toy. I love garage sales and picked this up a few years ago. It sounds just like you think is does. Younger siblings love to play it. New students like to try their first pieces on it. It's cute and it's quirky that I own it.
I also have a very new-fangled keyboard with every bell and whistle. It has a whole band, choir voices, synthesized everything, drums, and it is FUN! I do most of my composing here. It is hooked into the computer and I can hear my compositions through its speakers. I get the luxury of hearing the flute as a flute. I think of this as a toy however. Why IS that? Because it's got lots of gadgets? Because it's FUN? I should take it pretty seriously as I use it for serious business. But I don't. I don't teach on it. Many teachers teach on keyboards and uprights. Students at this studio warm up on it using the headphones, or put a saxophone on their jazz piece, or play along to the drummer in swing rhythm. They love it too.
So, I'm in a bit of a quandry about this. I asked a friend today whether his Steinway was a toy. He got rather indignant and scoffed, "of course not, my Steinway is serious business!" I understand what he means. It is an instrument, a tool that is used to make music, to express one's self. At the root of my issue is the fact that when I ask people if the keyboard is a serious musical instrument, they invariably use the word "fun". So, if the grand piano is fun to me, is it a toy?
People work very hard, get a Porsche and put a vanity plate on it: MYTOY. Is it really a toy? We understand that it is an outward symbol of hard work. It's also a high performance vehicle similar to a Steinway.
Another friend said that the degree to which you use it makes it a toy. He views "toys" as parts of hobbies, rather like a man who gets lots of woodworking equipment to make things on Saturday in his garage. so, he couldn't see my piano as a "toy" because I make my living with it.
I asked some of my teaching and performing colleagues. They were a bit ruffled to even pursue the question. (That could be a whole blog in itself now, couldn't it!) If I could ask Lang Lang or Leon Fleisher, I am pretty sure that the answer would be absolutely not. So, why can I see it both ways? Can't my students find great joy, passion and FUN in learning to adore the beauty that is music? Does it have to be serious all the time? Am I doing it and my profession a disservice by even thinking about it as anything other than a high art form?
What I decided today (only because the time was up and I needed to post) was that my grand piano is and is not a toy. Brilliant aren't I. I play popular music, lead church music, and compose. I practice and perform as a classically trained artist. It's work, serious business and a tool, part of my teaching and performing, yet it's also sublimely, deeply rewarding. There is a duality here that is both amazing and challenging.
So, I guess the bottom line for me at this moment is: it depends how you play it.