Sarah Rasmussen, Pianist:
The first time I came to New York City,
I looked up at the flashing billboards, the narrow strip that was the sky above my head, felt the churning, rhythmic energy like a sea beneath my feet, and I knew I would live here one day.
Six or seven years later, I walked into a stately pre-war building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, my mother trailing behind me. I had gone to seven auditions in the past few months, and Mannes was one of the last.
As I stepped through the heavy doorframe, I felt the old energy again,
and again, I knew.
You see, Mannes College of Music wasn’t the most striking school I had visited, it wasn’t the most famous, and it wasn’t the cheapest.
But Mannes was the school where a tenured theory professor stopped my mother and myself to make conversation in the hallway,
where the Dean personally spoke about his ideas and plans with each of the applicants,
where students bent intensely over their instruments,
but also shouted cheerful greetings to each other in the stairwell
and sat in windowsills laughing while they ate their exotic, New York City takeout lunches.
And Mannes, was the school where I eventually met Sarah Rasmussen, my best friend, and one of the most artistic people I have ever met.
On any weeknight at the Mannes College of Music,
If you wander the halls around, say, 10 pm
You will find a long row of bustling practice rooms.
Inside one of them, Sarah leans into her glossy black Steinway. She’s probably on her sixth hour at the instrument, and she will stay until her mind, or her fingers, give out. She’ll ride the subway thirty minutes to get home to her apartment on the Upper West Side, stop by the Trader Joe’s to pick up dinner, finish her music theory assignment, set an alarm for seven AM, and practically fall onto her pillow. The next morning, she will drag herself to her breakfast, commute another thirty-five minutes back into the city, claim one of the rooms before they fill up, and start again.
If you have ever been asked
—For impenetrable and inexplicable reasons—
By some overwhelming and unnamable part of yourself,
to go beyond yourself,
beyond your circumstances,
beyond what is normal,
beyond what is accepted,
beyond what is easy,
beyond what is reasonable,
beyond what is safe,
If the thought of it makes your heart ache,
Makes your hair stand on end,
Makes you sweat through your sheets as you toss and turn in the night,
If it still compels you to get up in the morning,
Open your eyes to the sunlight,
Crack your knuckles,
And try again,
If these things have ever been true for you,
you know what it is like to be an artist,
and you may have an inkling of what I have observed in Sarah all these years.
There is an excerpt from a poem that reminds me of Sarah.
The poem is called Fiddler Jones, by Edgar Lee Masters.
It tells the life story of a small-town violinist,
and it begins like this:
“The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.”
The piece then goes on to describe how Jones, the young violinist, could never get any (quote, unquote) “real” work done
because he was always distracted by the music in his head
or being asked by his friends to play for their parties and gatherings.
In the last few lines of the poem, Jones says of himself:
“How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill—only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That someone did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle—
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.
Thank you for reading, and please enjoy the video.