Spring time is always peak season in the classical music business. Over the next month, I'm playing seven totally different programs.. Woof! The marathon starts off with a bang, with a solo recital in NYC next week that's presented by the Salon de Virtuosi series.
Although this kind of performance overload is taxing, I very much appreciate the pressure and occasion to pump out tons of music in performance. When that's not the case and I am left in solitude for a stretch of time, my inclination and tendency is to criticize my playing so thoroughly that I end up seriously doubting if anything I am producing is worthy of the public's attention and time.
At rare occasions when I've dug myself deepest in that dark hole, I find myself asking - "Is this right? Is this what's supposed to happen? Does everyone else feel so dissatisfied with their craft? Maybe I suck, maybe something is wrong with me, maybe I'm not meant to be doing this."
I think any serious musician has asked himself that question many times. We are conditioned by society to believe that if something causes dissatisfaction, it is inherently bad. But that's false in the case of art. Here's a quote from choreographer Martha Graham:
It is not your business to determine how good it is or how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work...No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
So often, people's reactions to an artist's dissatisfaction is to play down the pessimism and try to convince them otherwise - by perhaps pointing out achievements to be relished or rationalizing their presence in some way. But that misses the essence of art. It is actually a blessing that a human being can care so much about an art form as to be in endless pursuit of excellence. I can find comfort in the fact that if I am dissatisfied, it's perfectly fine - I am going in the right direction. If I'm grumpy, just let me be grumpy.
Somewhere on the internet there's an interview with pianist Mitsuko Uchida, whose quote has stayed with me - I'm too lazy to look it up, but it's something to the effect of "Our work with any piece of music is always in progress - if you're waiting to be satisfied with it to perform it, it's never going to happen. At some point, you just have to muster up the courage to perform and accept that it's not going to be perfect. Grow some balls, and just do it." (very loosely paraphrased)
Being an artist, in any medium, is a constant tug of war between this feeling of dissatisfaction with one's work vs. the constant pressure to produce. I think half the battle is finding a happy medium between those two forces.
Anyway, when things are so busy as this month, I don't really have time to be scrutinizing myself in dissatisfaction or stopping and wondering if I should jump off the deep end of the pool. It's go go go go all the time, all adrenaline, all fun and excitement. Here goes!!