One last lesson before my Berlin orchestra debut

One last lesson before my Berlin orchestra debut


norman lebrecht

May 05, 2017

Our diarist Anthea Kreston is inching closer to a dream date in Berlin:

I have had a chance to sleep in a little this week, and of course I am sick – I have been putting that off for months and it finally had a chance to pounce. I have a huge piece of cardboard on which I have a list of all of the music I have to play between now and October, with graph paper to chart the progress. Of the 10 Beethoven sonatas (which start early September), we have put together four this week (roughly).  Mendelssohn octet has begun, and I start working through the Four Seasons with my rehearsal pianist tomorrow.

And next week is Berlin Philharmonic. 

Procrastination as a classical musician is not an option. Or, rather, if you choose procrastination, your career as a classical musician will be short and painful. Every musician knows that the neurological aspect of learning is painstakingly slow, and needs both time and a certain amount of “resting” to achieve flow. There is an entire branch of Music Psychology devoted to cognitive neuroscience.  In fact, in autopsy, you can distinguish the a musician vs a non-musician by the brain. Gaser and Schlaug (2003) studied the brains of musicians (both professional and amateur) and non-musicians and discovered increased amounts of grey matter in auditory, motor and visual-spacial brain areas. So – in a nut-shell – you should be practicing right now instead of what you and I both know you are doing right now, which is reading this instead of doing what you are actually supposed to be doing RIGHT NOW!

So – another thing that occurred to me this week is that, no matter how old you are, if you are the youngest sibling, you will always, somehow, either not know what you are doing, have to be talked to “sternly”, or simply have to be rescued. I am the youngest of three girls, all capable musicians in their own niches.  I was on WhatsApp with my oldest sister (a frighteningly capable person who can seemingly sightreading an entire page of music flawlessly after it has been flashed to her for 10 seconds).  She asked what the rep was for Berlin, and I told her I was playing viola – Heldenleben. She wrote back OMG and told me to hold on a second. She got back on WhatsApp 1 minute later and said she had scheduled a FaceTime “meeting” (read: lesson) with her husband (an incredible violist) to just “double check” a couple of spots this weekend. This is also the sister who “just happened” to be in Europe three times this year and had time to come stay with us and go to Ikea and help set up our internet, among a million other things (she brought an entire suitcase filled with Trader Joe’s things as well).  

I asked if she thought I was some kind of a moron, and she said, “of course I do, but in the most supportive way”.  Sometimes being the youngest is the best possible thing in the world. And now – I must go do the thing we all know I am supposed to be doing right now instead of typing with my thumbs on this ridiculous phone keyboard – immediately!  I have a lesson tomorrow!


  • Mark Henriksen says:

    nice read!

  • Bruce says:

    I just realized that the sad part about a FaceTime or Skype lesson is that you can’t convince the teacher to cancel you because they need to protect themselves against your germs! Ouch.

    (Anthea… if you are reading this, STOP… you know what you should be doing instead…)

    P.S. Who remembers the title of Gary Graffman’s memoir? 😉

    P.P.S. There must be a good Alexander Technique teacher in Berlin. I presume you’ve had some experience of that before; I wonder if there would be time in your life to go see one, or have one come to give a group lesson to your quartet… just tossing that out there.

  • Anthea Kreston says:

    I recently had my first Alexander Technique lesson in Vienna (funny enough someone who was a Diary fan!) – loved it. And yes – have to practice (just had a super session while the chicken was cooking for dinner). Aaaaaaaaaa! Must Practice!
    Have a great week!

  • Marg says:

    Fascinating about the musicians’ grey matter. Aligns with an article in NYT I read a few months ago on ‘superaging’ which makes it clear struggling with learning to play a piece of music (or a new language) will do far more towards a healthy brain than a cryptic crossword every morning. I remind myself of that when I’m feeling a “will I? Won’t ?” moment about practice.

  • Andy Moravcsik says:

    “if you choose procrastination, your career as a classical musician will be short and painful.” Explains my career as a violist.