That’s entertainment

“Do you have any records out?” one of my listeners asked me a couple of months ago. I was flattered. Even the term “records” made me smile. So old-fashioned.

I’m not a professional musician, though I take a professional approach to being a volunteer pianist. To people who ask about my qualifications, I usually describe myself as a “serious amateur musician.”

Some very unkind things get said about amateur musicians. We’ve probably all suffered through cringe-worthy amateur music at one time or another. But we seem to easily accept the merits of avid amateur cooks, dedicated amateur athletes, talented amateur artists. Why not serious amateur musicians? After all, being “amateur” simply means doing something for the love of it, rather than for a paycheck.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw had particularly harsh words for amateurs: “Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned. May not one lost soul be permitted to abstain?”

American writer and artist Oliver Herford (1863-1935), too, disdained amateur musicians. He wrote, “Perhaps it was because Nero played the fiddle, they burned Rome.”

Despite my amateur status, I think my audiences enjoy my performances. And I enjoy playing for them. Being a volunteer pianist allows me to contribute to my community in a way I find meaningful. Another reason I stick with it: There’s research showing that playing a musical instrument might stave off dementia. Makes sense to me. When I tackle difficult music that requires me to push the limits of my ability, I can feel my brain getting warm, working hard.

On Friday afternoons, I get together for classical music with a few amateur-musician friends who play string instruments. We’ve recently added a clarinetist to our circle. I am the pianist for the group. The music we produce is imperfect, to say the least. We will never master most of the challenging pieces we play. They are simply beyond our skills. But our goal is not to perfect the music. It is to dwell in the music.

Someone once asked me why amateur musicians even bother, when there are much better professional recordings available to listen to. Only a non-musician would ask that question. The passive pleasure of listening to music is completely different from the joy of making music, even at an amateur level.

Do you have any records out? was high praise indeed from my elderly listener. After all, I’m an amateur musician. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

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9 Responses to That’s entertainment

  1. Kriss says:

    Very nice, Paulette. You said, “We’ve probably all suffered through cringe-worthy amateur music at one time or another,” which reminded me of some elementary or middle school student musical productions. But speaking of “amateur musicians,” I recently had the treat of hearing a recording of Stevie Wonder singing in three Christmas programs at the Michigan School for the Blind (Lansing, 1870-1955) when he was 14, 15, and 16 (1964, 1965, and 1966) — it was like the voice of an angel. Wow. You can hear it in person by asking that it be played for you at the Vincent Voice Library (4th floor of the MSU Main Library).

    • Yes, I remember attending elementary and middle school strings concerts. What a frightful sound those kids made!! Thanks for the tip about the Stevie Wonder recording. I’ll stop in the MSU Library and listen to that sometime.

  2. Roger Wise says:

    A non-professional friend of mine seemed justified in buying a very expensive guitar because the salesman told him “the professional deserves the best… but the amateur needs the best.” Works for me. Being an amateur musician does have its benefits.

  3. June ritchie says:

    As someone who has always listened in awe as you play I was shocked at your blog! One of my regrets is that I never had musical talent.To be able to sit at your piano play and bring a whole room together and make friends with your talent just seems magical to me!!

  4. Jean Detmer says:

    You will always be a professional to me. You are the reason I took piano lessons for a year way back when…unfortunately I do not have the musical talent that you do. It was a learning experience for me…we all have different talents and I found out mine was not playing the piano. You made it look so easy. So glad you get so much pleasure out of it.

    • Jean, I’m touched to learn that I inspired you to take piano lessons. It’s a lot harder to learn to play a musical instrument as an adult. I discovered that when I took cello lessons in my late 40s 🙂

  5. Jessa says:

    You do have recordings! 🙂

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