Music school memories
Just funny stories
- One-man wind section
- Gadfly award
- Successful life
- Music theory nightmare
- Breath support
- Letters to future selves
- Dynamics: on/off
- Last-moment soloist replacement
- Solfege procession
- Grave accusation
- Man of rehearsal letters
- So, you are a programmer
- Imrpomptu lesson
- Job security
- On-the-spot repair
- Well-Tempered Clavier
- Warm woollen mittens
If you haven't heard that story, I studied clarinet performance in a classical music school from 2018 to 2022 and dropped out three months before my graduation... for a reason unrelated to the school itself, but let's not talk about that here. I want to talk about the impact it had on me and share some funny stories from that time.
Originally, I planned this post to be just a collection of funny stories from my time in that school. Then I realized that I should properly reflect on that time, now that some time has passed and I have had quite some musical life outside of school. So this is part a retelling of the story for my friends who may be curious to hear it, and part “journal therapy” for myself.
So, how did I even end up in a music school at the age of thirty? In my teen years, I played guitar — mainly rock music, but I studied classical guitar performance for some time as well. That’s where I learned to read music and hear intervals. However, I always loved to listen to wind instruments — both in orchestral music and in jazz, it’s just that a cheap acoustic guitar was all my family could afford, and the used wind instrument market was nearly non-existent at the time in that place, so there was no way I could become a wind player myself.
Then I had a very long break from music. My interest in science and engineering took over and I didn’t have time for other pursuits. Working in information technology didn’t leave much time either, and I was listening to a lot of music but wasn’t playing any. And then there was a time in my life when I worked as a network engineer in a very understaffed telecom company where I was on call 24/7 and there wasn’t time for anything else at all — not even for proper sleep. After a couple of years I was completely burnt out. My friend and I quit that place to start our own company around our open-source project. It was a lot of work to get it started, but I wasn’t bombarded with monitoring alerts and support requests 24/7 anymore and wasn’t tethered to my computer to react to them on short notice — suddenly, there was actual free time.
I got myself an electric guitar (which I couldn’t afford in my teens) and started learning jazz tunes and learning to improvise. Then I realized that I could get myself a clarinet and at least give my old dream a try, so I did. I learned to play scales with a fingering chart, but it was obvious that if I wanted to be any good at it, I needed to learn the proper technique, so I found a teacher. He’s an interesting man for sure — for many years, he managed to play clarinets in a symphony orchestra and play tenor sax in a big band at the same time, and I certainly liked his playing and I learned a lot from him. However, later our relationship became rather strained — we’ll get to that part soon.
I got so carried away with the clarinet that I almost completely neglected my guitar. That man was teaching at a music school and at one point he asked why I don’t enroll if I’m so deep into it. I thought it was a logical idea so I did enroll, played at the audition and got accepted. Frankly, if I knew just how hard it would be to study while working full time, I’d have never agreed to it.
That school isn’t very selective — its approach is to take people even if they don’t play all that well and then kick them out if they fail to improve fast enough. It also requires as much music theory and ear training from performance majors as other schools only require from musicologists. I believe it’s a good thing, but many people fail those classes.
To my surprise, I wasn’t the only second-time student. One double bass player was a geochemist by day (I had a huge crush on her… she’s married to another guy now and seems happy — good for her). One trombone player was a nuclear engineer. One my flutist classmate was in the real estate business, although he dropped out from the second year. At least I wasn’t alone in that pursuit.
My original plan for learning to play the clarinet was mainly to play jazz. I always liked classical music, but I hadn’t seen myself as a part of that tradition. Since that school only had a classical clarinet performance programme, I didn’t get to play any jazz while I studied where, save for big band arranges adapted for the concert band (there was no space for improvised solos, so whether it could even be called jazz is debatable).
There were lots of good things about my time in that school. I learned more about classical music than I ever imagined, and I learned things I wouldn’t know existed. Music theory and solfege classes helped me with composing and improvising more than anything else — seeing and hearing relationships between notes and chords helps a lot. The music history class was really a composition class to me where I learned how exactly renowned composers expressed what they wanted to express and that helped me to better express my own ideas. Playing in a symphony orchestra was a better “orchestration class” than a theoretical class could be, and it was a great experience as well (although it’s very demanding work). I made great friends among classmates and professors alike, and we still stay in touch.
The bad part is that it left me with stage fright of enormous proportions.
Part of the reason is the process itself. You work on a solo programme for a couple of months, then if you play it perfectly to a committee, you may get a chance to play it at a concert as a soloist. Or not. But if you don’t play it perfectly, you will certainly never get a chance to play it to a real audience.
That school also requires soloists to always play from memory at exams.
Frankly, it’s as if a computer science department judged its students by their ability to write programs blindfolded. Sure, it’s kinda impressive if someone can program blindfolded, but it’s not how people in the real world write programs. Classical soloists play from printed parts at concerts all the time and no one judges them for it. It’s a concert, after all, not a memory competition.
That combination of preparing for judgment days and having to memorize whole pages of music gave me really bad performance anxiety. Every performance where I made mistakes due to anxiety only made it worse, so it became a vicious cycle and eventually, it became a paralyzing stage fright. I was doing mostly well at chamber music exams where I could play from a printed part, but every solo exam where I had to play from memory was a disaster.
By the third year, I was a straight-C student who was considered unfit to be a soloist. I would frequently forget the notes, mess up phrases, and just panic when I made any of those mistakes, so after the first mistake the performance would get progressively worse. The usual saying was that anxiety can easily make your performance 50% worse, so you need to practice it to be 150% confident. So in the eyes of the committee, I wasn’t practicing enough and also needed to “just” find a way to calm my nerves.
Unfortunately, there’s a limit — if your performance anxiety is bad enough to make it 100% worse, putting in enough practice time to be 150% confident still leaves you with a very poor outcome. In reality, the most common reason for messed up phrases and squeaks was that shaking hands made it physically hard to hit the holes and keys.
(To be fair, I wasn’t the only one with lots of C grades. Of twenty people, there could easily be just a couple of A grades. Even really good people were getting Bs for performances that I thought were absolutely great. On exam days, the department was palpably filled with fear and anxiety, and people I thought were the greatest players of us all were no exceptions.)
Later I realized that the real cause of my memory problems was just chronic sleep deprivation. When you work full time and also have multiple classes and rehearsals every day (not counting the practice time), there are easily just 4-5 hours left for sleep during busy times. If you don’t get enough sleep, memory is one of the first things to suffer. Worse yet, at least for me, there’s a tendency to underestimate the level of mental exhaustion. Besides, what could have I done anyway — short of resigning from school?1
I only realized when I started writing this recollection is that one habit of my teacher made the situation worse. A lot of the time he would stop his students whenever they made mistakes or he didn’t like their choice of phrasing. He was certainly well-intentioned and wanted me to get things right, but the problem was that I hardly had any chances to perform, even at lessons.
To be fair, one reason was probably his own mental health issues. He’s been gradually losing his eyesight for the last few years, and when it got so bad that he couldn’t read parts and take orchestral gigs anymore, he became really depressed and irritable. I’m depressed a lot of the time as well, but I hope I have the metacognitive capacity to keep it from affecting anyone but me. Some people, sadly, don’t seem to have it.
Also, by that time, he would frequently just say that my playing was wrong but didn’t bother explaining what exactly was wrong and how I could make it right.
I remember one time he suggested a lovely piece to me — Valse Triste by Reinhold Gliere. It has some relatively tricky rhythmic interplay between the clarinet and the piano in some places. I was confused by those phrases, and when I failed to get it right a few times, he got really angry and suggested that I could as well just take something else. Thankfully, the pianist who accompanied me offered to meet me during the week and helped me figure it out — but she was doing my teacher’s job there that he neglected to do. If one’s performance is frequently stopped on the first mistake during rehearsals, what it trains them to do other than to start panicking after mistakes? I’m sure some could resist it and still perform well. I couldn’t.
If you read this far, you probably wonder why I didn’t switch to a different teacher. Well, that’s a fair question. First, I thought I was so bad that no one else would want to take me anyway. Second, I didn’t want to leave an old man who was obviously going through a very difficult time with his vision loss.
Third, there’s one truly ridiculous thing about that environment — leaving your teacher is seen as the ultimate act of personal betrayal. Every time it happened, it led to a drama that I’d expect from 13-year-olds but watching grown-up people react like that was just bizarre. My classmate who played the sax switched from that teacher to someone else — she told me that she was switching, I told him, then both the classmate and her new teacher threw a hissy fit at me for “revealing their secret” and that it was “none of my business”. Of course, it was everyone’s damn business — it meant she wasn’t playing in the chamber group led by my teacher anymore so we had to reshuffle the parts or choose something with fewer parts on short notice. Besides, it’s not like he wouldn’t have known when she switched. Even in less dramatic cases, for many professors (including mine), having someone switch to someone else meant cutting all ties with them. I didn’t want that so I chose to stick with the status quo — certainly to my own detriment. I’m not ready to say what would be the right thing to do, and now it’s irrelevant anyway.
I suppose if one performs elsewhere, it’s much easier to ignore such things at school. Since I barely had any time for sleep, I certainly had no time to perform anywhere else. I only played with my friends for fun a few times during those four years. Since two of those years were years of COVID-19 restrictions, there were no opportunities for public performance anyway.
And then I dropped out and left, and for half a year, my only form of music making was typing notes into the scorewriter by ear, without any instruments on hand. Since I considered myself a failed instrumentalist, I wasn’t sure if I would play anything again and I was mentally ready to focus solely on composition.
Well, I guess it’s actually quite hard to completely stop being a musician. The first clarinet player I met in my new city offered me to take one of the horns he wasn’t using and buy it later if I liked it. I have no idea why he was so certain that I wouldn’t run away with it, but I took it and started practicing, without any specific plans for performance — just because I missed playing.
Then one cool person who was about to move away told me she was going to host a farewell party and invited friends to perform there. I really wanted to make a farewell gift, so I wrote a little piece and went there with the horn. My performance was objectively terrible, both because I was very out of shape and because my hands started shaking after the first mistake just like at exams. But I rediscovered performance to an audience where no one came specially to judge me.
A bit later, I played with a pianist first time since dropping out. I was really excited and scared at the same time when the pianist offered to play with me when she had a bit of free time (with no audience). I wanted to play with a pianist again after that long time, and I wanted to play together with her because I admire her so much, but it was scary for that very reason. Yet when we started playing, I felt no fear. I messed up a few times, she also messed up a few times — great people can mess up when sight reading as well. But it wasn’t about getting it right for the exam. I didn’t like how I sounded, but I liked just playing together without any judgment or expectations.
Then I started joining my friend’s band on a gig that he essentially uses as a public rehearsal — it’s in a really tiny bar and he only gets free drinks for it. That was the first time I played real jazz on the clarinet, and improvising with people was really terrifying at first. I did create a couple of train wrecks, and the first time I got lost in the form, I panicked — people from the band certainly weren’t happy but no one kicked me out of the band for it. I also found that it’s cool when people dance to my music — they may not listen to it attentively or even care about the chord changes or anything but at least I know they are enjoying it.
The first time I went on stage as a soloist at a jam session, I had to play a psychological trick on myself to actually get myself to do it. I came early, assembled my horn, and asked if I could join for a tune. Since assembling the horn and then putting it back without playing would look really rather silly (in my own eyes, at least), I had no choice but to walk on stage. I chose a tune that starts on the first beat to avoid any possible issues with a pickup. I also practiced the head a lot but still got so nervous on stage that I forgot most of it and had to improvise to fill the gaps — at least in jazz, it’s a normal practice so no one could guess that it wasn’t intentional self-expression. My solo was outright primitive that time, and I was prepared to hear that it was my last performance there. To my surprise, people seemed to like it.
One of the house band members from that place recently said that I was a good clarinetist. An actually good clarinet player said after an objectively disastrous performance at another place that I sounded good. I’m really surprised that people say that and I find it as hard to accept as “the Moon is made from cheese” or “all prime numbers are even” — in my mind, it’s not a logical possibility that I may be a good clarinetist.
But that’s one thing I find odd. While I was in school, I hated every single aspect of my performance — sound, intonation, articulation, phrasing, everything. Every time I recorded myself, I couldn’t listen to it without physical repulsion. I recorded myself once after I started playing again and expected to feel the same, but to my surprise, it was sort of tolerable, even if certainly not good. I don’t know if it’s my playing or my perception that has changed. At some point, I may find the courage to ask someone to record my improvisation and listen to it.
All in all, while I certainly learned a lot in those four years, I’m also still recovering from them. Oh, well, I promised funny stories. There we go.
→ Just funny stories
→ One-man wind section
The year I enrolled, the school got a proper symphony orchestra first time in decades — as in, with string and wind players playing together. Strings and winds are technically different departments that rarely mixed: for string players, the string orchestra was a required activity; for wind players it was the concert band.
The symphony orchestra was more or less a pet project of the conductor who got hired that year — in fact, came out of his retirement to do it. He invited wind players and percussionists into the string orchestra and switched from string orchestra arranges to full symphonic scores. It was a huge success at first — we played avant-garde music at an international festival that was held in our school, performed symphonic hits like Mussorgsky’s “Night on the Bald Mountain” at concerts, accompanied singers in pops orchestra arranges…
I have to admit I was always stressed out by the responsibility of being just one of the two clarinets rather than a member of a larger section, but it was a great experience. I really loved the mix of multiple instrumental colors and complex symphonic music.2
However, since the symphony orchestra was just an extracurricular activity for wind players that wouldn’t even appear in the transcript, the “symphony” part was holding up on the bare enthusiasm of wind players. During the COVID-19 restrictions, much fewer people wanted to put their time into rehearsing anything without any prospect of performing it. The guy who played the first clarinet transferred to a school in a different city; some people graduated; others just preferred to do something else.
Eventually, there came a time when I was often the sole wind player there. I would often play everything I could play, from cue notes, another part, or just by ear. It was especially funny in pieces like Weber’s Oberon overture, where I would play French horn calls and respond to them myself.
Well, and then I dropped out and, apparently, there were no more wind players left there. No one to play French horn calls and no one to respond to them anymore.
→ Gadfly award
During the strict phase of COVID-19 lockdowns, I was entertaining my music theory professor with heavily annotated jazz playlists. She loves listening to jazz but didn’t know much about it, so I would give her the context on the evolution of those tunes and styles. After the lockdowns, she asked me if I could make those notes into proper articles and send them to the school’s musicology conference.
There was nothing actually new in those articles, it was just a retelling of well-known facts in the language of musicologists who focus exclusively on classical music. Yet my parallels between Baroque improvisation and modern jazz tradition, between I → ii/I-V/I-I reharmonizations in bebop contrafacts and late Romantic music, and similar things instantly earned me respect in the musicology department.
To be fair, since I was considered a bad soloist, that scholarly pursuit was an escape for me where I felt more valued.
The highest point in my career as an honorary musicology student was when my professor sent me to a student competition. Nothing in the rules said that performance majors couldn’t participate, after all. It included a quiz, a brief public lecture, and a concert review. I used the lecture part to tell people about the music of Aaron Copland. The quiz was quite fun but there’s not much to say about it.
The concert review part was really interesting. All participants needed to attend the same concert in the evening (and we got free tickets at least!) and submit a review of it by the next morning. I’m a rather accomplished hack writer, so speed wasn’t really a problem for me.3 The concert mostly featured original music by a local composer. I chose to be completely honest, so I praised the pieces that I thought were good but noted that many were unimpressive and cliched. I also noted that the concert presenter did an embarrasingly bad job preparing and quoted some of the clumsiest phrases to show that my accusation wasn’t baseless.
The promise was that the best review would be published. I won a special prize for best review and the committee told me off the record that I was the only one who said what everyone thought. Essentially, I won a gadfly award. They didn’t publish the review, though.
→ Successful life
One time the concert band director called the head of our department during a rehearsal break and started the chat with “Hey, man!”.
My friend from the clarinet section couldn’t refrain from being funny and said, “That’s how you know you succeeded in life: you can call your department head and say ‘hey, man!’”.
(In reality, they played together in the same bands for decades so their current academic positions had no impact on the formality level)
→ Music theory nightmare
Since I was one of the biggest music theory nerds, a lot of people came to me with questions. Close to the finals, it was actually difficult to walk down a hallway without someone asking me a music theory question.
In my junior year, there were so many people asking me questions about the fresher level theory that it eventually gave me a vivid nightmare. In that dream, I was taking the final fresher-level music theory level exam again, the professor was absent for some reason, and everyone in the room asked me for help with their exam problems. I tried to help everyone until I realized that there are only five minutes left and I had a blank paper because I spent all that time helping other peoople. Needless to say, I woke up in terror.
(In reality, I got an A for that exam and certainly never helped anyone cheat at it)
→ Breath support
My clarinet teacher always reminded his students to constantly work on breath support. He has also certainly lived by his own ideals.
One time he asked me to fix a light fixture in his basement in exchange for food (he and his wife made great coffee and baked wonderful pies — that’s not an inadequate payment!). He took a lit candle to the basement, I checked the light fixture and fixed the loose wire. When the candle he put in the corner was not needed anymore, he didn’t bother moving closer to it. Instead, he blew it out at least half a meter away.
I think I have enough breath support (i.e., pressure) to pull that off but not enough direction control. That may be why I’m not playing the flute…
→ Letters to future selves
There was a tradition of writing letters to the future that first-year students would deposit at the beginning of their first semester and get back after graduation. We didn’t take it any seriously. One classmate placed the handwritten version of a jazz tune I wrote for her in the envelope. Someone placed a small bill “for celebrating the graduation”. I used it as a chance to tell people about Vonnegut’s “The Sirens of Titan”: I drew a dot on the paper and told people the story of Salo carrying that message across the universe without knowing that it was simply a dot — “hello” in the Tralfamadorian language.
However, when my class graduated, it turned out that those letters were lost in the chaos of the COVID-19 years. The manuscript of my tune, enough money for a drink, and my message in Tralfamadorian are all lost to history now.
→ Dynamics: on/off
For one piano exam, we weren’t given a chance to try out the piano we were to play it on. I was to play a piece with quite a few dynamic contrasts. When I sat down and lightly touched the keys to start a phrase, there was no sound at all. That piano only had dynamics from f (if you hammered the keys hard) to fff (if you hammered them really hard). Needless to say, the piece didn’t sound like it was supposed to.
→ Last-moment soloist replacement
One of the activities of the piano class was accompanying a soloist. Everyone was expected to bring their own soloist. I asked my flutist classmate, we rehearsed a couple of times and everything was fine.
But on the exam day morning, she was nowhere to be found. I gave her a call and she replied in a very sleepy voice that she slept in but she could try to arrive as soon as possible.
My turn to play was coming soon, so I needed a plan B. I ran to our department to see if anyone who’s good at sight-reading was around and found my trombonist friend in a practice room. He agreed to rescue my exam and we went to play our impromptu trombone arrange of a flute piece.
At least the piece was simple, so he successfully read the second octave treble clef (for the uninitiated: trombone music is normally in the bass clef). It obviously sounded unrehearsed (because it was) but the committee still gave me an A — probably more for the show than for performance quality.
(Upon hearing that story, some people ask what happens if you can’t find a soloist. The serious answer is that the piano instructor will probably convince some of their other students. However, for orchestral instrument majors, I suppose the real answer is that if no one wants to play together with you, you have already failed ;)
→ Solfege procession
In the solfege class, one of the weekly assignments was to sing an exercise from memory. In our first year, we once made a performance out of it: four of us entered the classroom one by one, singing two measures of the exercise each.
That professor said she always likes teaching orchestral instrument majors because they are always fun, and she claimed that our class was even funnier than usual.
→ Grave accusation
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the primary assignment of the music history class was writing essays about the music we were studying.
Many people would merely summarize the professor’s material and textbooks. I’m a closeted musicologist, so I would read the historical background, then listen to the music with a score and write my own analysis.
One day the professor asked me in the chat if I listened to the pieces I recently wrote about (Debussy’s orchestral music, AFAIR). That got me really scared. I re-read the essay three times and couldn’t see anything obviously wrong in it. Then I gave up and sent her a carefully worded message to ask what was so wrong there that she suspected that I didn’t even listen to the music.
It turned out that nothing was wrong, to the contrary, she wanted to make sure I didn’t try to pass someone’s article as my own assignment.
→ Man of rehearsal letters
I wanted to join the school choir for a while, but I thought I was a really awful singer and no one would ever want me there. One time, however, we were rehearsing for a large concert that involved out symphony orchestra and that choir.
The choir had a different version of the same score, so the first rehearsal was a huge miscommunication about the rehearsal letters, but the orchestra conductor couldn’t find the time to adjust them.
I thought it was a perfect chance to get one foot in that door, so I approached the choir director and put letters at correct measures in her score using my memory and my part as a reference.
She was impressed by that feat of memory but said that in fact, she was happy to see everyone at their rehearsals even if they weren’t good singers.
However, just after the concert, I got a bad throat infection, and then came COVID-19 lockdowns, so I never got a chance to sing in the choir at that school.
→ So, you are a programmer
The piano instructor once asked me if I can fix a metronome since I’m a programmer. I assumed it was an electronic metronome so unless it was something really simple like a broken contact, it was probably a lost cause.
However, in reality, that metronome was mechanical. What happened is that its winding knob got unscrewed inside, so I only had to screw it back.
→ Imrpomptu lesson
My saxophonist classmate once borrowed a violin from someone and tried to play it in the department hallway. Her posture was so incorrect that when one of the most renowned violin professors of the school saw that as she walked down the hallway, she stopped to give her a mini-lesson and correct it.
Sometimes you can get a lesson with a great musician simply by being really terrible at what you do.
→ Job security
One of my classmates was another second-time student way past the usual age. He ran a small real estate business that focused on short-term rentals for his day job, played the flute, and sometimes performed as a DJ in nightclubs.
He started getting unexpectedly popular as a DJ, and it became a good stream of income for him even, so he couldn’t keep up with the school when his day job and DJing were occupying all his time. But at least his job security seemed enviable.
And then came 2020 and COVID-19 lockdowns killed both the short-term rentals market and the nightclub scene for quite a while. He had to take a 9-to-5 office job to make a living and that schedule was completely incompatible with studying.
Being a successful second-time student certainly requires quite a bit of luck, even in good times…
→ On-the-spot repair
One trumpet professor got a side job as a music teacher in a school. Naturally, his idea was to set up a concert band. He trained a few drummers, but wind players take a lot longer to train to a level where they can contribute, so when he wanted to have a concert to show something to the principal and popularize wind instruments among the students, he had to find someone else to play the horns. His approach was to just walk around the orchestral department and ask everyone: “Hey, want to play something for kids next week? Here’s a part.”
Since he was a fun and easy-going guy, he would usually find enough people for a “skeleton crew” to play a few simple arrangements. One time he recruited my saxophonist classmate to play a tenor sax part, but she didn’t want to carry her own tenor sax to his school, so he offered her to use the school-owned instrument instead.
When we gathered there and she put her mouthpiece on the school-owned tenor sax, she discovered that the entire lower register wasn’t working. I took a look and immediately found the problem: the register key was bent, and its pad was a few millimeters above the hole.
Since there was no time to get her own tenor or to do anything else, I made the most improper woodwind repair job in my life. With the sax still on her neck, I held the register key in place with one hand and gently bent it down with the other hand.
That worked well enough, she could play in both octaves without any trouble, and everyone liked the performance. But I swear — I hope I’ll never get to do that kind of on-the-spot repair again!
→ Well-Tempered Clavier
It was Wednesday, and the class schedule for Wednesday was absolutely insane that semester: I would come to school at 8:30am and leave it at 7pm. Other days are easier, but surviving Wednesday was one of the hardest parts of the week.
One reason I had to come so early was the piano teacher who loved to schedule classes in the morning. Those early birds — they can have all the worms, but can they please not force me to wake up with them? I don’t even like worms. But I digress…
After that 8:30 piano class, a symphony orchestra rehearsal, a lesson with my clarinet teacher, and a few lectures, the most logical thing to do was to go home and rest. But I reasoned that I couldn’t get more tired than I already was, so I dragged my tired ass to the music theory professor’s office.
She frequently outsourced her office hours to us, music theory nerds. I would listen to solfege exercises, look for parallel fifths and other mistakes in part-writing assignments, and explain obvious facts to people who, for some reason, didn’t find those facts obvious.
There was nothing for me in it — I just admired her knowledge and skill, and I knew she was always overworked, so I did what I could to help her. She would give me feedback on my own music and answer my questions about obscure subjects.
She’s also one of the few people who were actually concerned about my well-being. She also talked me out of quitting school a couple of times, when I doubted myself as a performer enough to consider quitting playing forever.
That time I walked into her office, she could certainly see that I was close to the limit.
“Have you slept last night?” (A little bit — I had conference calls with people from radically different timezones again).
“Have you had the time to eat anything today?” (A stale pastry and an unhealthy amount of terrible coffee.)
“Are you fine?” (As fine as it can be, given the circumstances.)
I can’t remember if I had any specific question but forgot it before I got there, or I simply wanted to see someone who cared for me. What I asked after that exchange was what she thought of the second book of J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier — a work that, at the time, seemed a bit incomprehensible to me compared to the first volume. I tried listening to it from its first pieces but couldn’t get any farther.
She suggested that I should listen to the B-minor prelude and fugue from it if I wanted to get into it. When I got home, I looked it up and found it strikingly beautiful.
When I met her again, I thanked her for one of the best music recommendations anyone ever offered to me. It turned out she actually meant B-major. But the deed was done — the B-minor cycle remains one of my favorite keyboard pieces ever written, and I studied the entire second book in detail, including that B-major fugue that my music professor loves.
→ Warm woollen mittens
There’s no obvious way to end a post in this format, so I’ll just end it with a story that has nothing to do with music.
It was a warm winter day, and I went home on foot after classes. First, I saw a fluffy mitten lying on the ground. Then I met my flutist classmate, we walked about a mile together and she noticed that she only had only one mitten in her pocket. I realized the mitten I saw was hers.
That mitten was so cute and fluffy that I simply couldn’t let her lose it forever. I walked a mile back, found the mitten still lying on the pavement, picked it up, and brought it to school the next day. She was very happy to get it back. I hope for her it will be something to remember me by in the years to come.
1My musicology major friend would often look into my red eyes and tell me that if I didn’t start skipping classes, I’d be dead long before graduation. Alas, performance majors have a lot more unskippable things, like orchestra and chamber rehearsals.
2I’m not a snob, though. My classmate who played the first clarinet there would always roll his eyes at concert band rehearsals where we often played marches and waltzes. I actually enjoy marches and dance tunes. There’s time to play symphonies in concert halls and there’s time to play dance tunes in a park and watch couples dance, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes.
3If I’m not under pressure, I tend to write slowly and carefully, but I can produce something coherent in a short time if I have to.