I received an email in September from someone who knew someone who’d seen this talk asking whether I’d like to sing and speak at TEDxYale. I had loved TED for several years as a vacation into a room of brilliant people. The week before the email came, I remember thinking that it would make an insane bucket list goal: give a good TED talk.
As soon as I realized that this was really going to happen, I felt overwhelmed. I have more personal crusades than anyone should. After weeks of writing and grandstanding from my couch and in conversation with smart friends, I picked a topic that had a little of my career and a little of my real life, and one that I feel strongly about: The primacy of live performance in the life of a healthy society.
Even to get there, I cut out lots of fun dinner party conversations that contain info “worth sharing” that my crazy performer’s life has brought me. Real quick:
- You can train your mind and body to stay calm in moments of high performance. Anyone can do this. It’s not a talent. It’s just practice.
- You don’t have to have a cold for a whole week. You prolly just need some salmon, some greens drink (maybe this one but there are lots), some sleep and some Nyquil. Most of my colds are down to 1-2 days max. Please knock on wood as you read that.
- Excellence is worth working really hard for. By excellence, I mean some complex task with objective standards, like singing a Bach aria in tune. Sometimes this involves fundamentals and boring things like repetition, but it’s so rewarding.
But even leaving all of that out, here’s more that we left out that was on the topic:
I never thanked the phenomenal Kevin Newbury for his help in structuring the talk.
From the cutting room floor this phrase was cut from somewhere: “These are both things we need right now: Focus, and a sense of mutual safety.”
I described an early version of the talk to a friend in Berlin last month and she told me the following profound/hilarious story about her father which we added and then cut for time: “My friend Pauline Sachse, a German violist was playing next to the bed of her father who was in an induced coma following abdominal cancer surgery that had almost killed him. She played lots of Beatles songs over the week as her family hoped for the best. On the day they were to bring him out of the coma, she played “Bei mir bist du schön,” one of the songs he’d taught her when she was a child. He began to regain consciousness and even to try to speak, but they couldn’t make out his first words. They thought he must be saying something profound and moving following such a huge ordeal until they realized he was whispering “Schneller” (“Faster”) because he thought she was playing the song too slow…. So at his recovery party weeks later, Pauline made an arrangement for string trio and they played “Bei mir bist du schön” very slow and then very fast.”
We cut the funding plug and I’m glad we did, but it went like this: “If you can, write a check to a live performance organization that touches you, especially if you live in America where the arts are mostly privately funded. It’s important and the torch for this has to pass to the next generation.”
That was all cut to get the talk under 7 minutes, but here are some topics someone should cover another time:
- How genre is softening even among young elite classical musicians and how that’s kind of cool.
- How good it feels to sing when it’s going really well.
- How we overemphasize the concept of talent because it’s boring to talk about the preparation that really makes good performers.
- The awesomeness of Joan Panetti who is playing the piano for me. She’s a treasure. If you’re into classical music, check it: the only small freshman seminar she ever taught produced Marin Alsop, Eliot Fisk, and Anthony Tommasini … from the same class. I’m still close friends with half of the people I took Hearing with. She won’t allow the word Theory and insists everyone call it Hearing. She changed the Copland arrangement all around and is even improvising a bit.