Tag Archives: Essay

Mr Chopin, are you suffering greatly?

Brahms was a perfectionist so overwhelmed by Beethoven’s influence that it took him twenty-one years to complete his Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68.

My college music professor told me this story, and soon I’d embellished it with false details, for example that Brahms had been unable to perform in public until his fifties for fear of being accused of imitation. Years later I read a book that confirmed the influence of Beethoven but also noted that the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor was performed in 1859 when Brahms was 25.

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Winning (or, The time I met Malcolm Gladwell)

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I was a half-century old, and I’d never won a thing.

Not a book award, not a lousy toaster or a trip to Cancun or nice stationery or a dinner for two at the downtown Keg Manor. I’d fantasized about prestigious ceremonies, big cash prizes. I read John Steinbeck’s 1962 Nobel speech and thought, “What would I say?” Or maybe I thought “What will I say,” because I had quite the imagination, and I was delusional.

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Kill or Be Killed

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I grab the mic. No longer an Everyman, another face in the crowd, a safely indistinct unit among the species, I’m on stage. In a microsecond their eyes focus and it’s Them and Me. My job is simple: to entertain. But really it’s, as show business terminology puts it, to kill and not be killed. So I deliver the lines I’ve practiced a hundred times to get it just right. With as much confidence and command as I can summon, I deliver the lines. And nothing happens. The room is silent, the faces without expression. I have died.

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