This past weekend I was priviledged enough to get a gig (which apparently a big deal in Los Angeles within itself) playing with the Caltech-Occidental Symphony in Pasadena. These two schools don't have enough musicians to have separate orchestras, so they share one, and hire out for the holes in the ensemble based on the literature being performed. I was on contrabassoon. The major work on the program was the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1. It was a great piece of music, and its third movement reminded of the life Shostakovich had to live, and how that might not be completely different than any of us.
This Russian composer came up through the music world after some of the Russian greats, including Stravinsky and Prokofiev. His music was inspired by many of their styles, including neo-classical and romantacism, and the mixing of these two styles is most clearly seen in his "Lady Macbeth". Critics influenced by Stalin publically condemned that piece, and in Shostakovich's eyes, that was a death sentence. Under Stalin's regime a secret branch of the police would go out in the late hours of the night, arrest people at their homes that were not found favorable to the governing powers, and they would disappear forever, usually killed. With one of his major works described as "vulgar" by the government, he figured his time was coming, and a suitcase was always packed in his apartment in preparation for that midnight knock at the door. He didn't die until 1975 (lung cancer), but the thought of death being so close for him is said to have driven him mad.
As I performed his Violin Concerto, I thought about what could be in store for me, or any of us. The research I'm doing on the Wind Ensemble coupled with the other projects I have has me thinking a lot about my future, and if I'm preparing for it. As musicians (and even in other fields), our fate lies in a single audition, or interview. So many years of study, practice, and hope lead up to every single one of those, so how do we know if we are, like Shostakovich, packing a suitcase in vain? I think it's important to understand, though, that he continued composing through this time, and it is this music that's most memorable to audiences today. Maybe the mental struggle made his music better. They say that grapes that have to grow out of dry, rugged earth make the best wine.
As we study, practice, prepare for interviews, and make hopes for the future, I think we have to be prepared. I wouldn't go as far as saying that we all need to prepare for a midnight knock at the door (probably by a repo man or landlord, haha) as much as I'm saying that we need to press through the difficult things in order to produce something great. From coal comes diamonds, after all.
Everything we do in preparation for the future may very well be in vain. Not every musician wins an orchestral audition. Not all lawyers find work in the fields they want to, and teachers are even getting laid off in school districts across the country these days, but we have to press forward. If you know me, you probably know that "The Matrix" is one of my favorite movies. In the second film in the trilogy, Morpheus gives the following quote, and I think it's interesting to tie in with our futures, and the "what ifs" of life.
"...tomorrow we may all be dead, but how would that be different from any other day? This is a war, and we are soldiers. Death can come for us at any time, in any place. Now consider the alternative. What if I am right? What if the prophecy is true? What if tomorrow the war could be over? Isn't that worth fighting for? Isn't that worth dying for?"
Listening to: Aston - Bullet Proof (cover)