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Updated: Aug 25

“If you feel like you’re losing everything, remember trees lose their leaves every year and they stand tall and wait for better days to come." – Unknown

Pianist Jonathan Biss had a panic attack in the middle of a pandemic-era concert he was playing, and he had to leave the stage to go backstage and curl up in a ball. That -- before he could figure out how to stand up tall.

As a serious amateur pianist for the past three years, playing mainly at home for my partner or kitties, or occasionally in the lobby of the fabulous, renovated, small, elegant Victorian hotel pictured above, The National Hotel in Jackson, CA, or on an upright in a nearby small restaurant -- I have NOTHING to complain about! (Below is Tipsy's favorite orchestra-level living room-based seat for my piano performance!)

Biss' story is incredibly honest and beautifully narrated in a video I stumbled on. He describes his intense music love and not wanting to create an uncomfortable experience for his listeners as two causes of his high anxiety during performances. I wonder if viewing this video might help a music student, professional or amateur, who knows of what Biss speaks?

With that in mind, I just wrote to recommend this video for the students of someone who has touched me deeply with his gift of empathy, academic study of effective strategies for quelling anxiety, and teaching about human motivations and emotions when it comes to performance of any kind, be it in front of one person or thousands. I'm referring to Julliard Professor, psychologist, and violinist Noa Kageyama.

In January I attended Noa's well-orchestrated and carefully crafted zoom class in five sessions of Psych Essentials. Surprising to me, my classmates also included some very seasoned and competent performers who had the same needs! I don't know if Biss found Noa or not, but happily, he successfully pursued therapy and mindfulness practice to move forward in his performing career.*

In recommending this video to those professionals or amateurs experiencing even a shred of nerves when performing -- or sharing music with friends as I like to say I do -- I wonder if I am motivated by the old adage that "misery loves company"? Perhaps; there should be a better way to say that, something about knowing that one is merely human and surprisingly to me, having a common response. Apparently we are not foolish outliers who may sometimes feel like retreating from our deep love of music and a compelling desire to play our beloved instrument. There exist ways to move forward - and we can find them if we try!

Biss' video brought tears of recognition and empathy with his struggles, and did so multiple times as I watched it. Early in his life music seized his soul as much later in life after retirement, it did mine -- an in a cataclysmic paroxysm (is that a redundancy? lol) of joy one day early in the pandemic. That's when I re-discovered the very idea of, and my high school piano and taking lessons again after 63 years. It was a life-changing "eureka" moment of ecstatic bliss in my life, and I knew it held a deep truth for me.

What Biss says he specifically suffered was high anxiety that disconnected him from himself and from others and focused him on his fear of what his failures might mean to his audiences. He didn't want to make them feel what he was feeling inside, and he wanted a direct and open feeling to the music he was playing.

Now Biss strives to be "radically sincere."

I interpret that as advice to just be who we are!

I'm convinced there is a common thread between us all, if we love and adore music. We want two principal things: first, to be our best in transmitting the beauty and gifts that composers left us, or in creative improvisation, and second, simply to experience the bliss in music and transcendence of the pedestrian or difficult challenges, and sometimes, the inevitable miseries and grief in human life.

In doing so Biss says that now he doesn't have to be "more or less than he is." What a perfect realization! We all have to make lemonade out of the lemons - and lucious persimmons - that we are given in life.

* * *

*Biss is performing on Jan. 18, 2024 at the San Francisco Herbst Theater this fall and I shall attend this 1000-person small theater. If you are in San Francisco then, I hope you will join me! I learned that I much prefer a more intimate location in which to listen to live music compared to the huge venue of the SF Symphony Hall which seems to swallow up sounds and remove most of the magic of music, at least for me.

* * *

GITLES (from Vol. 3 "Poetical Musings" in preparation)

“The new, new generation…

Reliable…so concerned about career.”

So said Ivry Gitlis,* unparalled violinist,

perhaps a seer in his time

who told us more about youth

in what he left unsaid about them

but told us galore about old friends.

“Now, Kreisler, he would say as he

stepped on the stage to play,

‘I’m going to meet my friends.’”

For Gitlis and his friend

that’s where music starts and ends

and what it is. And taking risks?

He opines it matters little

because the “whole thing is a risk.”

Is it not? Full stop—it is!



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