Hi there! You guys are subject to an awful lot of my opinions. In an effort to inject some variety into your life and impart some actual information, I have dragooned the incomparable Sheri German into writing a guest post. That’s right, you’re going to hear from my mom. And you’re probably going to like her way better than you like me — she actually, like, knows stuff: she has a masters in music performance, spent many years as a piano teacher, worked backstage at the freakin’ Kennedy Center, and could kick any and all of your asses at drop-the-needle. Make sure you tell her how much you like this post, because I’m trying to coerce her into telling some of those Kennedy Center stories, especially the one about that thing Rostropovich did that one time that she thinks is embarrassing (I kid, Mom, you don’t have to :P). And now, without further adieu…
Back in the 1980s I was a music student who earned my living as a “traveling” piano teacher. In other words, I braved the traffic of the city to teach my students in their own homes. I taught a nice little group of boys and girls who lived around the Northwest area of Washington, DC.
Every so often I would take them on field trips. On one occasion I took them to the Kennedy Center to see the great Rudolf Serkin play a solo piano recital. The children were quite young — mostly in the 9 to 14 year old range — and the program was probably a little long and ponderous for them. Serkin was considered a musicians’ musician and played a lot of German music.
Still, the children were well behaved and seemed to derive some benefit from the experience of being in the Concert Hall of the Kennedy Center listening to one of the great pianists of the 20th century. After the concert was over, I took them backstage. I felt like the mother duckling in Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings as all my kids trailed after me to the backstage “Green Room.”
Serkin graciously signed the program of each child and was very gentle with them as he asked them about their own studies. Then he turned to me and very seriously asked the most astounding question.
“Did you think it was OK?”
I was stunned. Did I think it was OK? I couldn’t believe that this remarkable pianist was looking for my reassurance. I gulped and told him I thought it was one of the most magnificent concerts I ever heard. He looked pleased and my students and I said our good-byes.
I am not sure what I took away from this experience except to think that perhaps even the most lauded among us still want to know that they have reached an individual when they perform, not just a collective audience. Or maybe it’s as mundane as no matter how accomplished you are, you still harbor feelings of insecurity. Whatever the case, Serkin died in 1991, and the only performances I can see now are ones like the Schubert Piano Sonata in B flat on You Tube.