Unanswered Questions

My biggest regret about my life is that I didn’t continue practicing piano. In 1982 I started typing instead, and that was that. Now I’m writing a piano concerto, and it would be energizing to imagine myself playing it with an orchestra someday – but that’s not going to happen. When I was 19, playing Chopin polonaises and Brahms rhapsodies along with my Wolpe and Rochberg, it would have seemed a possibility.

My other big regret is how seldom my intensely busy life allows me to see my close friends, who are scattered out from Alaska to Germany. A related regret is the difficulty of even keeping in sufficient touch by e-mail. The longest, most meaningful, most searching e-mails are the hardest ones to find time and mental space to answer. The succinct e-mails that require no reflection have a split-second turnaround time:

“Did you ever find a punching score for Nancarrow Study 13?”

“No.”

“Thanks.”

The e-mails that deserve a long, thoughtful response, not only from close friends but from strangers with strong mutual interests, pop up as I’ve just finished editing a recording and have to dash to the post office before it closes, and I make a mental note as I’m off to a concert, and I don’t get back to them that night while fifty more e-mails come in, and they start drifting down my e-mail box, and someday I have an hour to spare and I go searching for the e-mails I most wanted to answer. I imagine it’s the same for us all – the messages most deserving of a response hang in the ethernet as unanswered questions. The feeling of muted, unfulfilled, but tangible connectedness that remains, which the internet does much to reinforce (even if it also heightens our awareness of the facile negativity that flows around the world), will have to be sufficient consolation.

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Comments

  1. says

    I have exactly the same problem, and I feel terrible about it, especially when the long, thoughtful e-mails come from strangers. You’ve made me resolve to take care of e-mails today instead of writing another tirade against Norman Lebrecht….
    KG replies: No, no, tirades against Norman Lebrecht are high priority!

  2. says

    The readers of this blog should know that you, Kyle, are an impressive pianist and have several Beethoven sonatas- as well as other classical repertoire- memorized, which is a lot more than many of us “professional pianists” can say. Playing the piano is like riding a bicycle. You’ll be touring with your own piano concerto in no time.
    KG replies: Oh, Sarah Cahill, I’ll post this, but you know it’s a rank exaggeration. I can play the exposition and scherzo of Op. 28 off the top of my head because I played it in college, and I’ve half-memorized passages from some of the famous sonatas from having taught them in class so often, but that’s a far cry from playing them up to tempo with the right notes. It’s embarrassing, actually. But sitting in a practice room was not something I was terribly good at. I wish it was like riding a bicycle, but you yourself panic if you have to go two days without a piano close by.

  3. says

    Kyle, I think there must be an inverse ratio involved. The more thoughtful an email is, the longer it takes to reply, and vice versa. And then, of course, there’s the getting buried in the queue, which doesn’t help. I always feel so guilty when I don’t respond in good time, but there isn’t that physical presence, such as a piece of paper, to sit there as a reminder, making me feel guilty.

  4. says

    I hope you balance the regret with the thought that those long/meaningful/searching e-mails were occasioned by your writing, and that they represent intellectual activity that may not have happened without you. As much as your replies would be appreciated, their absence is not a cause for excessive concern. By the way, please don’t bother to respond to this – use the time to keep working on the postmin. book.

  5. Chris King says

    Your here-and-there comments about your regret at quitting piano have made me reevaluate my own position. I’m a high school senior, and I more or less stoppoed playing a few months ago, when I realized that piano would not be my major and that I’d never be stunning