Practice was hard in the chorus. We got there late. The orchestra played on and didn’t wait for us to find our place. Chorus The practice was hard. I struggled and ached with my voice and the score straining for the melody that I should follow. Beethoven is like a juggler who starts with the notes of a single instrument, and before you notice he’s throwing in the air an assembly of musicians sitting calmly in their chairs, hair flying in the stops and strings of their instruments. And Chorus But I tried not to worry about getting it right at first. I didn’t need to impress anyone. I could always keep my voice low, and sing out only where I felt sure of the words and the notes. And Chorus First he threw violinists and the drummer, then a few oboe, French horn, and trombone players, throwing them up and setting them down. Finally the whole string section, the flute and the piccolo players, followed by the soloists and the chorus, until the whole orchestra and all the singers were in concert, in the air, in great loops and arabesques. And Chorus Why did I do it? Did I enjoy being tossed in the air while I tried to draw a gold thread through a fine brocade? One slip, I thought, and he could drop me. I dreamed of getting it right from the first, a hero, but my performance was far from my fantasy. I could either strive for the impossible, or relax, do my best, and try to enjoy it. Chorus And after the practice my friend complained that one player on bass muddled the whole thing. Music is not a game, not when it’s so hard to do, not when one person can ruin it for everyone. Later, I compared the serious discipline of playing music to Zen practice, which you do until it’s not practice, but real life, like breathing, in which you can play as much as you wish.
4 January 1986, Menlo Park