Anguished musicians in YA

This is to  be a short post because I’m having a bit of a hard time coming up with content at the moment. I’m blaming this on the fact that I feel hungry and tired all the time. Apparently, this is what happens when marathon training. I had brunch with a librarian friend, who happens to be pregnant, who has run marathons before. Needless to say, we ate a lot. I thought this being hungry all the time was just me. But apparently not. (All of the things on that list are so true: hungry, tired, sore, obsessed with telling my roommates the dull minutiae of every run even though they really don’t care.)

See there I go again. What I briefly wanted to talk about is somewhat related to my post for YALSA’s The Hub for this month. It’s classical music appreciation month and so I of course, jumped at the chance to write about classical music and YA. I did have some trouble finding books that addressed classical music and teen musicians. I did find some the most notable being the recent The Lucy Variations and Virtuosity. Reading the books back to back I found that they were eerily similar because they both featured teen virtuosos under immense pressure tempted by breaking free and having a “normal” life.

Performance anxiety was a big component of both books. As a former piano student who had performance anxiety, I found that reading about others experiencing the same emotions was not exactly enjoyable. While I was never more than a mediocre pianist at best – I’m ok with this because I think I’m a great librarian and I still love music and still love playing – I could relate to this characters. Some people’s stress dreams involve missing an exam in high school or showing up to the test naked. Mine all involve either failing a piano jury (final exam where you have to play the judges’ selection from your semester’s repertoire) or not learning a piece or botching a practice session or having my lovely yet terrifying Russian piano teacher yell at me for having “floppy hot dog fingers.”

It makes sense. It’s a highly specialized, incredibly competitive world. I’m very thankful in some ways that I’m not really a part of it. But the books left me wanting a little bit more joy in these teens’ experiences. Where is the love of the music and the thrill of the process? My high school piano teacher once told me that she decompressed by sight-reading Bach fugues. I thought she was crazy until I started doing the same thing. Bach is orderly until he breaks the rules in the most exquisite ways. Where is that side of the love of classical music? I suppose it doesn’t really make for a good plot, but there are some weird teenagers out there who feel that way. I would be interested to read about a classical music amateur or hobbyist.

One of my most enjoyable, if not my best, performances was at two dear friends’ wedding last year. I was terrified to provide ALL of the music for their ceremony. I had a horrendous rehearsal in front of the whole wedding party that morning so I thought I was going to totally crash and burn and ruin their wedding in the process.

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Here I am playing Modest Mussorgsky’s Procession from Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s a powerful, stately piece. I felt strong and musical and not perfect, but good.

Don’t worry, I didn’t. It was all fine, and I got many compliments on my playing. It wasn’t perfect – I’m sure my piano teacher would have had many comments – but it was a program I had put together on my own. I was able to give this great gift to my friends, and enjoyed myself in the process. That’s the side of classical music I’d love to read more about: the joy and the accomplishment of individual endeavor.

Maybe that can be one of the many, award-winning YA books I’m sure to write someday: a pianist who loves the music and the journeys of learning pieces, but that’s just something that informs her rest of her experiences.

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