Not really a musician

There seems to be a constant sense of creeping dissatisfaction in me about what kind of musician I am. I almost don’t feel like I am one. I’ve said before — and I do believe it — that when it comes to the 88-key keyboard, I’m a novelist and not a typist. (I also use the comparison between writing and calligraphy.)

But what would it be like to be a typist? Is that a more “real” way to be a musician?

I occasionally flirt with other instruments, ones that make one sound at a time and where you have to care more about the quality and color of the sound than anything else. I sort of wish I could get behind that because it’s a bit alien to me, but … I just don’t. I simply don’t care about the exact nature of the sound. That would be like reading a book and, brilliant though it was and transformative as the ideas were, saying, “That was a bad book. One of the pages was smudged, and I didn’t like the font.” Who the fuck cares about the font? What did the book say?

But some part of me wants to care about the font. There seems to be something else there that other people seem to care about obsessively that just has no scent or taste for me. I am a novelist, and I am not a calligrapher. I don’t see why I’m dissatisfied with this, but my behavior seems to indicate that I am for some reason. Maybe it’s just that, in the current culture of classical music, the calligrapher is almost the only kind of musician there is. It’s getting somewhat broader, but … not really. Isn’t a musician the sort of person who can hear grass growing? The sort of person who picks nits over exactly which violin should be used for what piece? I’m not saying crappy intonation doesn’t drive me nuts, but the only thing I’ve ever freaked out over was a squeaky damper pedal.

Doing music the way I do it makes me feel very isolated and alien among what some part of me thinks should be my own tribe. Music is supposed to be about connecting with people and social cohesion, and yet the way I do it marks me as fatally out of step even from the other people who do it.

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