Monday, November 1, 2010

Baseball and Brahms, World Series vs. World Music

As I write this our Bay Area team the San Francisco Giants have just this moment won the 2010 World Series. Their road to the playoffs against all odds and all predictions made an interested fan out of me (and thousands of others, no doubt).  I know I am a relative beginner in appreciating all of the finer points of baseball, while lots of musicians have probably been knowledgeable, passionate fans of the game for decades or more. So  I am wondering how many musicians, like me, have noticed the intriguing parallels that can be drawn between baseball and music in terms of psychology, personal highs/lows, practicing, performing, competing, strategy, choices that have to be made.....not to mention muscular coordination and skills required, whether an individual is having an "off day" or not.......

Regarding that last point, for example, the sports announcers would comment on how some pitchers "didn't have" all of their pitches at their disposal on a given night so they had to choose which pitches they could rely on for that game. How many of us performers walk onto a stage to commence a concert sometimes feeling like we wish we could change one of the pieces on the program because for whatever reason in our pre-concert rehearsal we found that our body just wasn't "in the zone" on a particular technique required by that piece, or our mood isn't readily connecting with one of the works we had chosen to program months or years previously. It's kind of reassuring to know that major athletes don't always have their bodies cooperating either, but at least they aren't always forced to include their less-confident pitch all night, regardless!

But that is just one example.....the analogies between a sports team and an orchestra have been drawn up by hundreds before me, so I don't need to go there, and in fact since I am not an orchestral player my thoughts did not tend to go in that direction very often as I struggled to tear myself away from solo piano rehearsals to watch snippets of each World Series game this week. It was the duel between the pitchers that fascinated me the most, and it was the young catcher Buster Posey that impressed me the most. But in general I was most emotionally drawn by the personal conflicts sometimes going on within each of the individual team players when at bat or in the outfield, as they struggled to perform at the top of their potential in every inning and every game. I also loved the humility with which every single one of them, when interviewed after any game, would compliment and thank the other players and never answered the reporter's questions with an "I" response, regardless of how the question was phrased and even when they had truly done some incredible feats individually.

I have always been horrified by the amount of money that is paid to major league players in any sport, and I still am. But what came across in watching this particular team, time and time again, with both the older players and the (many) unbelievable rookies, was the obvious joy with which they played baseball, using all of their gifts to the absolute maximum. I honestly don't think they were thinking about their pay or comparing themselves (negatively or positively) with their teammates or the opposition in terms of talents or in pay scales. They were blest with particular gifts and talents, and they knew how fortunate they were to be able to use those talents to give enjoyment and uplift to many many others who could only watch. When one has done something since childhood, as many music performers no doubt have, it could probably be easy to start taking things for granted sometimes and so whether as performers or teachers of budding artists, we need to think about ways to keep that appreciation of our gifts and our opportunities alive, never taking them for granted. I remember that once we were producing a world music concert and one of the performers was a bit nervous. Before the concert began I happened to notice a person in the audience who was in a wheelchair and had a 'hook" on one arm as an "artificial hand".....I remarked to the musicians that that audience member was not thinking about whether we were nervous or not - he/she was probably thinking that they would give anything to be able to play at all, and that our joyful task was to play in that person's place and to express for them what they could not do in a physical way but might feel very passionately about in their ears, mind and heart.

But I digress......back to the Giants and the World Series: None of the players were absolutely perfect throughout the series, and even if they were individually having an "off night" or an "off week" where nothing went right, they could remind themselves that they were still the ones chosen to be in that place on that ball diamond on that night and not someone else, and the humiliation of being so obviously human (as in, imperfect) in front of millions, would have to be the price that one sometimes has to pay for the gift. At least, I hope they understood that. I know I am a lot harder on myself than that when I am on stage, and I suspect most of us are. So from now on I will just have to remember Baseball and the night that a team of so-called "individualists' and "misfits" that had not played nearly as well (individually or collectively) as other teams had earlier in the season, won the World Championship  - by working, playing, and sharing their gifts -  with perseverance, determination, and Joy.

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