About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Monday, May 5, 2014

Memories and Instruments

An article in a recent New York Times, After Playing, Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow, chronicled the bittersweet decision to give away the musical instrument sitting in one's closet, unplayed for years. The author is music critic Zachary Woolfe, who explains his own decision and feelings about deciding to donate his cello to the WQXR instrument donation drive. (The instruments will be donated to needy public school music programs.) He writes, "Those who have been musicians, even casually, will understand how unimaginable such a life can seem." Each person in the Times story had some regrets and a sense of loss, even while being pleased to help such a worthy cause. Perhaps the instrument is a reminder of good times, or maybe, like Mr. Woolfe, they hope that they'll take it up again someday. In Mr. Woolfe's case, he realized that he is much more involved in music now as a music writer, than he was as a cellist. That realization helped him donate his cello happily.

Of course, professional musicians who play constantly and depend on their instruments feel even more strongly about them. In 1979, Eugenia Zuckerman wrote an article for the New York Times magazine titled, "Rhapsodizing Over Instruments." She interviewed prominent musicians about stolen instruments, near losses, and injuries to their instruments. The quote from Isaac Stern, "It becomes an extension of the total you - body, head, fingers. You don't realize how close it is to you, how much a part of your body, until it is gone," summarizes quite well the feelings of most of the musicians interviewed.

She focused mostly on string players and the rare Strads and Guarneris, dismissing brass instruments with their lower prices. In fact, the article is a reminder of how much prices for all instruments have increased. At the time of the article's publication in 1979, a Stradivari had recently sold for a record $400,000. Today Strads sell in the millions of dollars.

Reading the article brought thoughts about my own unused horn, sitting under the piano in the living room. My situation is not he same as the people in Mr. Woolfe's article. All of them had stopped playing their instruments, usually decades ago. I still play, almost every day, in fact, but after purchasing a "new used" horn, I have stopped playing the old one. My new horn is so much better than the old one. It has made many aspects of playing easier and a lot more fun. However, I'm not giving up the old horn. It's an unusual model, made by the Alexander company of Mainz, Germany. Alexander makes outstanding brass instruments; the Berlin Philharmonic horn section all play Alexanders. My Alex is the model called the Heldenhorn, one of only about 20, designed and exclusively sold by my teacher, Milan Yancich. He modeled it on his Geyer horn and convinced Alexander to make it.

I played that horn for more than 35 years, though I barely took it out of the case for quite a few of those years. It served me well. And, it's a connection to my past and to Milan Yancich, who was a huge influence on my playing. So, though my new horn is a definite step up, I will keep the Heldenhorn for now.

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