Monday, July 2, 2012

The Lost Musician

There's a part of me that a lot of you don't know about. I play the flute. Not in the sense of, it came time to pick an instrument in fourth grade and so I picked the flute. Well, I did, but its casual, elementary beginning matured over the years. I found that I loved playing the flute, and what more, I was good at it. Maybe we'll give this thing a whirl....

Before I knew it, I was practicing quite a bit, although never quite as much as elite musicians my age. I started receiving opportunities to play in local and state orchestras, and I entered a variety of competitions. I went to band camp (shut up) at home and away.

I won a lot of these competitions. I got to perform as a soloist with a number of orchestras. In fact, I found THIS and THIS via Google. Haha. I was planning on scanning some pictures for you, but they're in the closet in Emmett's room and I am not risking waking that kid up. :)

So basically, in these solo performances, I wore a big fancy dress and came out on stage to play a concerto of some kind and share the gift of music with others. It was a win-win. Even playing for 8,000 people at George Mason University's concert hall, I was not really all that nervous. I played also at weddings, private parties, at the mall, you name it.

I played at Tanglewood at 15, which was a definite life highlight. The intensity of the playing AND listening at Tanglewood (picture a night laying out under the stars listening to Yo Yo Ma play his cello at Ozawa Hall) brought me to an intimate place with music I'd never had before. Getting swept up in the middle of something so intoxicating like Brahms' 2nd symphony is an experience I can bring up even now in my mind.

I had some amazing teachers in Greenwich, CT, where I grew up (Mary Fike, and Angela Kelly, that's you!). Eventually, and this was pre-Tanglewood, I started to study with another insanely talented flutist, Gary Schocker. As it grew increasingly likely that I could and would pursue a career in music performance, I took a lesson from Jeanne Baxtresser and the late Julius Baker. They liked me, and Jeanne wanted to take me on as a student. This was no small deal, for even getting a lesson with her was a process.

All along, my parents (and brother) were unbelievably supportive and spent gazillions of hours and dollars helping me follow this path. They didn't push me, but simply followed my lead. And they said, if at some point, this ever is too much, and you want to do something else, just let us know.

And eventually, shocking even myself, I did. Not immediately, because "quitting" cold turkey would have been like losing an arm. It was more gradual. I entered, and won, the concerto competition at Boston College my freshman year and my solo with them was my real last hurrah. I continued to play for a little while in the orchestra, at church, at weddings, for fun... but the grit of the tenacious musician in me had been buffed out. I had to let go bit by bit.

Why did I stop? A lot of reasons. Mostly that it wasn't for me. I knew I could make it, but I just didn't feel like it was what God had for me. And although I have few regrets in life (not for lack of mistakes, but for knowing how they formed what came after), I think often about what could have been if I'd stayed that musician. Yes yes yes, I can play now, I can practice, but that old life is back there. I'm not sad, I'm not looking for suggestions. Just reflecting. :) It's odd to me that most people who know me now know nothing of this person who used to be all of me. When I'm asked if I ever played an instrument, I say flute, but it's like answering the wrong question because I lived the instrument.

I don't play much now because the best time to play is when the kids are asleep, and it's hard to get out to practice in events at church, the community, and so on. But I do believe the opportunity to tap into the lost musician will come back again. I will keep my eyes - and ears - open.


Mike B. said...

I saw in those clippings that you played in NYS.

What years did you play? We might have overlapped.

Dorette said...

I'm always in awe of people who can play any instrument really well, since I'm musically challenged myself :-)

I know what you mean by a previous life - for me it was gymnastics. For 12 years I lived and breathed the sport - training 30+ hours per week and even becoming a qualified couch (to help pay for my own lessons). At 15, an injured neck forced an early retirement. I continued to coach for free in previously disadvantaged communities throughout college.

Today the demands of motherhood and full time working makes it difficult to pursue my previous passion - but who knows? The Lord's got a mysterious way of re-opening doors if He wants it.

Kevin said...

I think that it says a lot about the love that your were shown by your parents and brother that you were able to step away from music. God made us with so much love that he gave us the choice to do as we saw fit. He gave us the gift to be able grasp discipline, if we chose. He gave us the ability to choose, continuously, to have a relationship with him, or to step away, as painful as that is to Him and harmful for us.

Ali Foley Shenk said...

GUnK, that is a wonderful analogy. And so true. :)

Dorette, thank you for sharing about your previous you!

Katie said...

Ali, I remember your concerts with much joy. Especially, I think of your gift that you gave all of us at your grandfather John's funeral. It brought tears to many of us. I believe that one day you will be able to pick it up again and to even pass it on to your children. Even now I am teared at just remembering these events. Thank you for sharing your past life with the flute.

Kit Shenk said...

Ali, What an amazing story - and what a gift you have! We have been blessed by getting just a taste of your flute playing-Gam & Bop's anniversary at Twain Harte, playing with Sarah's mom, and at the rehearsal dinner. You had a storied career at a very early age! Awesome.

Candice said...

I loved learning this about you!

It's so interesting how we become all about our kids, isn't it? No one ever even asks me what I did before having kids.

Ali Foley Shenk said...

I know, it's so funny! I'm just now finding out what a lot of my friends-since-having-kids did before. I love hearing about it!