• Tanya Tomkins
  • April 18, 2014

Apprentices and Hiatuses

apprenticesThis month marked the completion of the first two-year Apprentice Program of my house concert series, Benvenue House Music.
Inadvertently, these last two years were also a time of reflection for me. For nearly half of it I was unable to a perform because of a neck injury. Oddly, it wasn’t just cello playing that became impossible with the injury. It was also writing at the computer, jogging, biking, and even reading in bed. For a person whose life has revolved around playing the cello, writing emails, jogging, biking, and reading in bed, this was like being sent to another planet. Of course, at first, I panicked. After the excruciating experience of canceling concerts was over I suddenly found myself with more open space in my schedule than I had ever had.
The other night at the dinner table with friends, a discussion started about whether bad things happen to a person “for a reason”. It was divided down the line according to sex. The women thought yes, absolutely, bad stuff happens for a reason, but only where one’s own personal life is concerned — excluding natural disasters, genocide, plane crashes, etc. The guys were convinced that everything that happens is random — up to chance. In my case, looking back at my 8-month hiatus from my usual activities, I have concluded that there may have been a “reason” for this injury.
I remember many years ago in Europe hearing about the great (and busiest) Baroque violinist at the tkuijkenime, Sigiswald Kuijken, making the seemingly radical decision to take three months off to go walk by himself in the desert. For those of us in the musical world living from concert to concert, festival to festival, among the other freelancers in a culture where nearly dropping dead from being over-scheduled is a sign of status, this decision struck me as a ludicrous, fantastic, and courageous act.
Perhaps I wasn’t courageous enough to make that decision myself and so my body decided to make it for me. In any case, walking, instead of running, just lying down and thinking, instead of reading, and weathering the withdrawals of addiction to busyness turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
In my time of healing some great things happened. We got a cat. We started renting out part of our house. Quiet became my friend and not an enemy. Most importantly, I got to recommit to the cello as an adult. Classical musicians are a strange breed. We choose (or very often somebody else chooses) our vocations in childhood. If you happen to show talent at an early age, it caIMG_1291n become a harder decision later to do something different and you suddenly wake up one morning and discover that you are a professional musician. Sometimes there is a great love of music and sometimes not. (I loved Andre Agassi’s autobiography where he talks about his hatred toward tennis!)
I once was standing back stage waiting to play a concert with a good friend of mine, now concertmaster of a major orchestra in Europe. We were listening to the presenter’s introduction. He was talking to the audience about a great musician’s love of his instrument. My friend whispered in my ear “I always hated the violin.” We both laughed.
Being a musician, deciding to play chamber music and make a living at it, is a hard life. In some ways, I think it was important to stop doing what I started doing as a child and to hit the reset button. If you do the same activity your whole life, it becomes important to change the way you do it as you change. I realized I had been carrying some old dreams with me into adulthood that no longer made any sense, and yet they had become part of my cellular structure and nervous system. The injury was a wake-up call to stay current with my motivations.
Now that I am back, I still love music and playing concerts, but I have realized how important it is to me to help younger people as they find their way in their own careers.  As a student in Holland, I was completely incorporated into the lives of my teacher and his wife (also a professional musician). I didn’t realize it at the time, but learning how they lived their lives was part of my apprenticeship. The life skills of the chamber musician are as demanding as the musical skills, and with our Apprentice Program, the seasoned performers on the series try to pass these lessons along to the up-and-coming performers.
Had it not been for the injury, I may not have had the time to devote to this new aspect of my musical life. In that sense, there really may have been a “reason” for it happening. At least, that’s how I prefer to look at it.phoebecoaches
P.S., This season is over for Benvenue House Concerts, but Eric Zivian and I are playing together at three wonderful events next month in Davis, San Gabriel, and San Francisco. You can always keep up with me by checking my website concert page here: http://tanyatomkins.com/events/
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