A Tale of Two Musicians, One Wrong and One Right

Erik Felton wrote a column a few days ago that stuck with me. It was about two men, and how vastly different they are– differences that have as much to do with the cultures of today and of yesterday as the men themselves.

Leonard Slatkin was recently driven out of the pit of the Metropolitan Opera where he was conducting Verdi.  Incredibly, it was the writing he did on his personal blog that created the fuss. He had written that he didn’t know much about conducting opera, and that he didn’t really like opera, and that he had had a difficult time grasping all of the notes. The critics agreed, and after one performance he was humiliated by terrible reviews, as if he just didn’t know what he was doing there.

The conductor actually blogged that he hoped the orchestra wouldn’t find out that the opera was totally new to him. Earth to Slatkin–people can find blogs pretty easily these days, they’re not locked up like a diary!

The second musician Felton wrote about was the great jazz piano player Oscar Peterson.  In 1993, he was playing what would turn out to be his final gig, and he began to falter. He was having a stroke.  One of his hands, which were famous for their dexterous fingering of the piano keys, began to give out.  But he played on, hiding the bad left hand and somehow compensating for it using the right one.

Noticing the problem with their leader, the sidemen glanced at each other. “What do we do?” one asked. Bassist Ray Brown said it succinctly. “Play, man, play!”  Felton wonders why more people in public life don’t take a lesson and instead of blog, twitter and whine,  just keep playing.