At this time of year, in 1996, I arrived to Berne. Perhaps the constellations bore similarity to their present alignment. I had a violin case on my back, a small suitcase in one hand, and a certain sense of excitement intermingled with apprehension as I stepped off the train that had brought me from Zurich airport. Walking out onto the main station square, I heard a lilting, song-like language around me. Bärndütsch. It would take me quite some time to understand the language, and the culture that came along with it. In the high German I had learned at school, I turned to a stranger and asked for directions to Berne’s “Konsi” - I was to meet my teacher Igor Ozim there for the start of semester. My first semester as a third-level student, my first time away from home, alone, for more than just some days.
Um diese Zeit im Jahr 1996 kam ich in Bern an. Vielleicht hatten die Konstellationen Ähnlichkeit mit ihrer heutigen Ausrichtung. Einen Geigenkasten auf dem Rücken, einen kleinen Koffer in der Hand, begeistert und beklommen zugleich, stieg ich aus dem Zug, der mich vom Flughafen Zürich nach Bern gebracht hatte. Auf dem Weg hinaus zum Bahnhofsplatz vernahm ich um mich herum eine beschwingte, scheinbar singende Sprache: Bärndütsch. Es sollte eine ganze Weile dauern, bis ich diesen Schweizer Dialekt und die dazugehörige Kultur verstand. In meinem in der Schule gelernten scheuen Deutsch erfragte ich mir den Weg zum Berner Konsi. Dort sollte ich zum Semesterbeginn meinen Lehrer Igor Ozim treffen. Es war mein erstes Studiensemester und auch das erste Mal, dass ich länger als ein paar Tage von zu Hause weg sein sollte. Ich sollte in Igor Ozims Meisterklasse studieren. Ein Studium bei ihm wurde mir durch ein Bundes-Exzellenz-Stipendium der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft ermöglicht.
During lockdown in Switzerland when people complained about being bored, I have to admit, their complaint chaffed at my patience. Being politely asked to work from home, yet still having the ability to go for walks, eat and cook food, read books, or shop online for anything you desire — music, films, craft projects in a box, you name it — does not equate boredom to me. When people bemoaned the closure of restaurants, concert halls, clubs, and other places where we humans like to gather, I did not feel that those of us who were bored were, equally, compassionate for the financial survival of the people who are servers or bartenders in those restaurants, those who maintain or play in the concert halls, or those who spin the decks.
When I embarked on envisioning an image that would capture my child and I, an image that could summarize the greatest challenge that I now face being a mother, with one word to encapsulate it, I didn’t realise what kind of conversation it would create along the way. I understood from an early age that I might face discrimination, coming from a multi-ethnic background of refugees and Shoah survivors who encompass cultures and traditions from Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. However, the greater number of my experiences were privileged. Everywhere in the world that I went, I was met with courtesy and respect. I was welcomed as an artist and treated as a human being. That is, until I got pregnant, until I became a parent.
For decades now, I have heard it said that interest in classical music is on the decline, to have lost its importance and popularity, to no longer be “useful”. In 2012, the National Endowment for the Arts (USA) reported that in that year, only 8.8% of the population had attended a classical music concert. My interest was piqued by these statistics, so I did a bit of my own digging. When I asked friends what they thought about classical music, apart from positive things, they felt that classical music was elitist, academic, dull, uninspired, a status symbol as opposed to an art form. Or, I found this one amusing — “too long.” Too long for what? “Just — too long!"
Recently, while running errands with my son, we passed a shoe store and my son unexpectedly stopped to look into the window. This is unusual for him because he has just begun to walk and explore the concept of forward motion. And so, he is usually running on his tiptoes, shrieking in delight at his own locomotion. My son is of a very sunny nature. He is cheerful, curious, fun, and very present. This latter trait forces me to drop everything and be just as present as he is. What he is not, is someone who stops in his tracks to look at something, whilst processing an impression that he can’t apprehend yet.
As I was leaving the house, I grabbed my coat. The weather seemed undecided. It reminded me of Ireland, of home, four seasons in the space of an hour. I stepped onto the pavement and the door swung closed behind me. I sunk my hand into one of my coat pockets to deposit my house keys then rooted around and felt something way down in there. It was a pair of earplugs.
Recently, I did something I rarely do. I decided, rather than just circling in the air above the jungle that is Twitter, I would fly straight into a polemic. I commented on a post regarding racism in Ireland, a country close to my heart, where I spent formative years as a child and teenager. The problem with a mud fight is that, even if you win, you still get muddy. This instance proved no different.
When an aspiring singer and the 19-year-old daughter of a musician friend of mine mentioned that she had never spent a penny on music in her entire life, I stopped what I was doing to listen. She quickly followed with the remark that she rarely listens to any song for more than 9 seconds unless its “really really good”. Her remark released a murmuration. I considered 9 seconds. Is it really possible to recognise a song and pass judgement on it in just 9 seconds?
You’ve decided to become a professional musician — and you’re not just rolling into it impulsively. This choice follows childhood years of extravagant travel and competitions where your parents wrote sick notes to get you out of school and your nearest and dearest friends and family oohed and aahed when you eagerly whipped out your violin to serenade them. You’ve thought about this and decided to jump in, eyes wide open, high hopes held tight. You want exposure and access to wider audiences. So, you begin your ascent to the top of the proverbial mountain, to a place where the air is thin and record labels offer weighty contracts. Only few succeed in this endeavor, but you make it to the top, and then you find out this is not enough. You have to earn the trust of your audience, maintain a high professional standard and assure reliability to those who work with you. The pressure is intense and relentless. You stand, essentially, at the service and pleasure of your audience. You work exceedingly hard for your vocation, and although you have an audience, constructed by your record label and promoters, you don’t necessarily know your audience. After all, concert halls are often plunged into darkness once the performance begins. Then, the Internet comes along, and with it, user-friendly platforms that enable musicians like you a means to self-publish. From MySpace to Facebook, the information superhighway opens. It’s the new millennium! You’re the master of your own destiny, but also directly exposed to all the criticism that’s out there. It now lands directly on your lap in the form of a like, a comment, or a click.