My inspiration struck around 7:15 pm last night, as I walked from the gym back to my apartment building. It was a quiet, drizzly, and entirely un-muse-like evening.
Then I heard it.
Buh… buh buh buh buh… Buh duh SQUEAK duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh dah dah duuuuuuuuh…
Can you guess? A portion of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” symphony number six, as rendered by a decent but – SQUEAK – clearly still amateur french horn player hidden somewhere in the apartment building I was passing. I was all the way out on the street and I could hear him clear as day. Including the SQUEAK.
And I thought back to that horrible night I attempted to play the violin again, and how I cringed and tried to remain pianissimo lest the neighbors hear me. And then I thought about Artur Rubinstein. “Sometimes,” he said, “when I sit down to practice and there is no one else in the room, I have to stifle an impulse to ring for the elevator man and offer him money to come in and hear me.”
That guy on the French horn was playing with all his might, mistakes and all. I, on the violin, spent half an hour trying to play as softly as possible and then five minutes stifling my own impulse, which was to jump up and down on top of my violin until it was so many toothpicks. And Artur Rubinstein, of course, always hoped that somewhere out there someone could hear him.
I can’t be sure, but I’d say that horn player was completely oblivious of his captive audience; he wasn’t thinking about them at all. Whereas I was thinking about it entirely too much, and it added another unfortunate layer to my doomed proceedings. Rubinstein, of course, was only disappointed if he had no audience, so between the three of us, we have things pretty well covered, no?
So – where do you fall on this spectrum, either as player or neighbor? How does it make you feel when you practice and you know you can be heard? And have you ever wanted to pound on the wall and scream “SHUT UP” to the tone-deaf clarinetist next door?