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Monday, March 10, 2014

March Madness #8: Thirtysomething

March Madness #8: Thirtysomething

Thirtysomething, the television show that aired for 4 seasons and 85 episodes back in the late 80s, brings back such fond memories of my musical education.


Yes. It aired during the last year of my bachelor’s degree and ended the last year of my master’s degree. Basically the four most important years of my musical education studying at Simpson College and the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory of Music getting degrees in piano performance.

I’ve been re-watching it on DVD (not Netflix, but that ol’ fashioned medium) late at night during the last week and it’s been bringing up memories of those late 80s: Where I was, what I was thinking, who I was – or who I thought I was – and who I thought I’d grow up to be.

Yeah, it was about a bunch of literal thirty-something yuppies. Yes, it was a pre-cursor of Friends, that tackled parenthood, marriage, divorce, careers, death, relationships, affairs, by creating a community of friends who sorted through major and minor angst-filled episodes trying to figure out what it meant to be a man or a woman in the new paradigm of the post-Reagan world.

But I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as looking forward into the future I’d never have because I was going to try to become a professional musician. The characters on TV were housewives, advertising executives, a professor, and a photographer who didn’t really know how to create a career. I guess I identified with Melissa (the photographer) because she was “artistic”. I also had a crush on Hope (Michael’s wife). I kinda thought I was like Elliot cause he was also “artistic” and was a mess, literally and emotionally.

I had a love/hate relationship with these characters because I thought how cool it might be to have a “normal” life, but I was so scared I might actually have to become one of them by failing to become a professional musician.  Of course, life throws you curves and I have ended up like one – actually two – of them. I’m a professor (Gary, the man/boy who refused to grow up) and have to admit have actually, clearly turned into Michael, the Jewish angst-filled worrywart par excellence.  Who knew?! (Well, if you could have known my mother, you’d understand why me being a Jewish worrywart is not that much of a stretch…) And I’ve had a few major career changes and personal depressions like Michael went through during the course of the series.

It would have been nice to have been in one place, had friends, had a house, and a solid base while dealing with some of these pains of growing up. Instead, my wife and I traveled all around the country – from New York City to Chicago to Tulsa to Pittsburgh to Memphis to Ithaca to Miami to Montreal plus a bunch of other places in between. We don’t have that community. I regret that, particularly while watching Thirtysomething.

But how does this connect with my musical education?

A few things, first  for me it’s about the culture of social media that didn’t exist twenty-five years ago. Being a student during the late 80s was a time when TV was ancillary to those other mediums of entertainment – bar bands, movies, rented videos, and live concerts and shows. I would spend my early mornings practicing (and in KC, that meant 8am to 10am every morning), then head into classes, then more practicing and/or rehearsing with singers, then studio classes or opera rehearsals, then dinner, then more opera rehearsals or practicing (into the wee hours). Late nights were spent on the phone to NYC with my future wife. I also read the complete works of Shakespeare, assistant edited those opera anthologies, was a research assistant on those musical theatre anthologies, played dozens of vocal recitals, played dozens and dozens of operas, got into Juilliard Opera Center as a coaching fellow, and maintained (barely) a long-distance relationship via nothing but a phone and a voice. We spent thousands of dollars on phone bills…

But every day, I got a lot done. A LOT DONE.

I can’t tell you how different it is now. Everyone having to check email, keeping up with their blog readings, their tweeting friends or FBing statuses, texting continually through classes, rehearsals, lessons, dinners, etc.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating, or overstating the time and energy involved in today’s social online whirlwind.  It has taken a toll on what we now can’t expect from ourselves, our colleagues, and our students. How is there time to get it all done, learn everything you need to learn, have all the experiences you’d wish for, yada, yada, yada?

Thirtysomething was the only TV show I tried to watch regularly. I remember rescheduling coaching’s and once even calling in sick to an opera rehearsal I was supposed to play in order to catch an episode (once you missed an episode, that was it until it’d go into re-runs in the summer).  I loved the issues that it tackled, how passionate the acting was, how funny it was and how moving it could be. Men cried on the show and that was new for me.

Watching the episodes now makes me pine away for the days when I had the time to practice the Barber piano concerto just for fun. When I thought I’d have decades to work through all the Beethoven sonatas and play every operatic score written in the 20th century without dropping any notes.

Ah youth!

So I look back and wonder why I thought I had to separate myself from others in order to focus on my career. Why I lost touch with my friends from those years so long ago. Facebook’s not a substitute for actual contact and with every year that does go by, I wish I was back in Dr. Baker’s studio class listening to the Barber sonata or Scriabin etudes getting nervous for my own renditions in front of my peers.

That was my community, plus the singers I worked with and rehearsed with and played recitals with. I’m glad that still exists in today’s world.

Off to meetings and rehearsals and squeaking in thirty minutes on a Chopin Ballade instead of reading email.  Sounds like a good plan!

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