“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.