Friday, July 6, 2012

Hats Off to Paul Hofmann

So I just went to Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School of Music and watched the jazz pianist Paul Hofmann give a truly remarkable concert featuring a number of guests who make up some of the best jazz musicians you will find anywhere.  Paul played a program made up entirely of the music of Keith Jarrett, not an easy task for any musician, and he knocked it out of the park.

Paul Hofmann was my piano teacher for four years while I studied at the University of Rochester, and I have to say I really lucked out. The Eastman School of Music is part of the University of Rochester, and even though I never could have dreamed of making it into Eastman myself, my status as a student at the University of Rochester allowed me to take advantage of many of the opportunities the Eastman School had to offer.  So in other words, I got to experience a piece of Eastman without having to be "Eastman material."  And from Day 1, I also felt like I was out of my league, that I was surrounded by genius the minute I stepped off the Red Line bus, and nothing I could do would ever match up.

And in most ways, I was absolutely correct. Everyone who goes to that school is on a different planet of musical excellence and that really can't be disputed.  In a way I had the most frustrating position of all, because I possessed musical knowledge myself, but only enough knowledge to realize why I'd never be as good as the rest of the people I saw walking around.

Despite my lack of confidence, I soaked up a great deal from Paul and my other teachers, Chris Petit and Michael Unger for organ, and Michaela Eremiasova and Elizabeth Kelly for composition.  But part of me looks back and says with one nagging thought:  "I wish I could have been a better student."  I wish I could have practiced a little harder, picked their brains a little more, and absorbed even just one more piece of musical inspiration. As an undergraduate perhaps I did stretch myself a little thin, being a double major frequently taking over 20 credit hours, while also managing a full plate of extra-curricular and volunteer activities.  Even within the music major I lacked focus, bouncing back and forth between piano, organ, and composition.  I do believe I made the most of time in college, but after seeing Paul's concert part of me wishes I had had the discipline to lock myself in a practice room for four hours a day and come out a genius.  But even if I had somehow conjured up the discipline, the fact of the matter is that I never was going to have the time, unless I had sacrificed other aspects of my undergraduate experience that meant a great deal to me.

Even two years after graduation, I still attend Eastman concerts frequently, and it is one of the things I will miss most about Rochester. There have been times when I walked out thinking "Why even bother doing music myself? I'll never be at their level!"  But at the same time the amateur brings forth a unique perspective to the mix.  When music isn't your life, it frees you up to think in a different space.  When there are no expectations to live up to, there is more potential for unique results.

So I exist in one of the following realities:
1. I have the best of both worlds. I was able to learn from the best while still maintaining the unique perspective of an amateur.  So despite my lack of technical skill, I can tap into musical ideas the professionals would never bother with.
2. I have the worst of both worlds.  My own level of musical skill will never exceed the level of an amateur, but I've seen the very best first-hand. So therefore I'm doomed to a life of never living up to what I know is really good.

Let's think positive thoughts.

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