Earlier this summer, I traveled to the Interlochen Academy for the Arts to teach a masterclass and play a recital. My husband and I visited here on an anniversary trip almost 20 years ago – the visit was brief and fleeting enough that I may as well consider this my first time here. I arrived on a Thursday afternoon coming directly from a performance in Grand Rapids, and the minute I stepped out of my car and heard music being carried through the air, I relaxed and felt at home. This is, after all, a place where art and music are prized above all things – “Art Lives Here” - even if just for a few days or weeks of your life.
On Friday afternoon, I had a break in my practice schedule so I decided to walk the campus. I wanted to enjoy each moment, as it would likely be the only “free” time before concert prep dominated every thought. The air was hot, the sun was blazing, and there was a welcome breeze that carried the sweet smell of summer on a constant wave to your senses. I strolled passed the outdoor auditoriums and music buildings onto dirt paths that took me further into the woods to what I call “Practice Alley” – a group of tiny cabins that serve as practice rooms. I could imagine myself as a high schooler being in heaven in this environment, surrounded by so much of what I dreamed I wanted for my life. I always wanted to be a concert pianist, with the secondary dream of being a lawyer. I think back on those desires often, and ponder how seemingly easy it was for me to shift gears and choose another road when the opportunity presented itself. There are times – many, many times – when I regret changing instruments, even though my musical life has a diversity that I would not have as a pianist. I don’t regret the change of a life but the missed opportunity to be inside all the repertoire that has inspired and driven me for decades. I still perform on the piano, but you can’t serve two (or three, in my case) masters – I can only practice so many instruments at once and maintain an acceptable standard of excellence I can live with, so I have to choose my focus carefully. 80% of the time, the organ takes center stage.
I was pondering these things as my walk took me around the campus to the Path of Inspiration – a brick walkway inscribed with names of Interlochen alumni, teachers, and guest artists and ensembles. The were many names that are familiar to all of us – Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, George Crumb, Lorin Maazel – surrounded by names of former students and families who at one time considered this place home. Amongst the names, I found one of my favorite artists – Jessye Norman. I have listened to her recording of the Strauss Vier Letzte Lieder more times than I dare count, in awe of her effortless ability to soar to great heights and plunge unfathomable depths. It’s not just the beauty of her voice that captivates, but the incredible depth of her artistry which seems to emanate from her entire body. Her contributions to the art – like many of the people surrounding her on that brick pathway – is profound enough to last for ages. As I thought about these things in the quiet of the woods, I shared with a friend that I hoped one day that I hoped I could contribute something to the art to be worthy of being incorporated into the fabric of its history. I don’t want this for my own fame or recognition, but for the opportunity of being a part of something that unveils the truth of humanity to the world in some tangible way. Why else are we here?
It is common to hear statements such as, "We don't teach music to make more musicians, but to make better human beings", or something similar. This is a fervent truth for some, but not for me. I teach music to cultivate musicians and artists. The world needs more (and better) artists. The world needs more (and better) art. We cheapen the art if we do not commit to plumbing the depths of its identity and truths, even for the noble cause of adding to the fabric of humanity. Art itself adds to the fabric of humanity. How the artist chooses to behave and interact is part of their journey, part of their discovery of that humanity. My job as a teacher and guide is to model, not to mother. I point the best way as best as I can, but it’s not my place to cement the student’s feet on the path. That is their choice. I am comfortable saying this in the midst of a world and culture that is defining itself by violence, ignorance, and divisiveness on every side of the spectrum. Art provides all of us an opportunity to search for our own, unique truth while still being a part of a larger community of others. There are untold forms of expression, and if we search hard enough, others who are drawn to what we think is peculiar to us alone. Through art, we find our tribe and yet remain part of a larger, more beautifully diverse whole.