Journeying through life, make room for music
My teenage son recently decided to take up the guitar again―and I couldn’t be happier. He switched from electric to acoustic guitar and is taking lessons and practicing. I hope it works out better than the first time around, when a broken finger temporarily put him out of commission and the guitar ended up gathering dust while other interests took hold. No matter if he doesn’t wind up as an Andres Segovia or Chet Atkins, he can choose, just as they did, to bring his guitar along with him on his life’s journey, and have his favorite instrument become a constant companion. What a wonderful choice to be able to make!
Which brings me to the point: Have you noticed that musicians never seem to voluntarily retire from their careers? They go on practicing, teaching, recording, composing and performing until they are no longer able. While there are doubtless many factors, I suspect it boils down to an observation made in 1943 by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, who wrote that “the creative impulse is identical with the wish to live, to feel alive.” Martinu had arrived in America as a refugee from war-torn Europe and wrote this statement at the height of the S econd World War. With this assertion, Martinu was in a sense reminding himself and other fellow artists to continue expressing themselves creatively despite the uncertainty, fear and deprivation brought about by a world that seemed to be tearing itself apart.
The life of one of Martinu’s friends, the Polish pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski, perfectly illustrates Martinu’s quote. Horszowski had also fled Europe for the United States, where he continued a remarkable performing career that would prove to be one of the longest in the history of the performing arts. He was already in his late 90s when I had the privilege to hear him in recital in Boston some 25 years ago. While the first thing I noticed was his slow, deliberate shuffle towards the piano, what I remember most is the radiant sound of the instrument. It was as if he poured a lifetime of experience into the notes produced by his fragile, but still agile, fingers. On that night Horszowski gave his audience a remarkable gift, an awareness and gratitude for
being alive that still strongly resonates for me a quarter-century later.
Today we are fortunate that the current concert scene is replete with seasoned artists who have enjoyed long careers and who continue to inspire audiences despite (or, rather, thanks to) their advancing age. While there will always be new and exciting talents to appreciate, our musical veterans, both living and no longer with us, remind us that life and creativity are inseparable― just as Martinu’s statement encourages us to reflect on how we might realize our own creative impulses as we pursue a meaningful and fulfilling life.
It is comforting to realize that as far as music is concerned, whether one is a professional or dedicated amateur, the word “retirement” needs never apply.
IT IS COMFORTING TO REALIZE THAT AS FAR AS MUSIC IS CONCERNED, WHETHER ONE IS A PROFESSIONAL OR DEDICATED AMATEUR, THE WORD “RETIREMENT” NEEDS NEVER APPLY.