At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself
In 1983, halfway through my junior year, I was summoned to a meeting with my piano teacher. He was a star, a winner of the Van Cliburn Competition, slumming in his first teaching job while concertizing around the world. I was in his studio, and I was struggling. I knew this meeting wouldn’t be happy; I’d just had my jury, and it hadn’t gone well.
I’ll never forget sitting there and watching his face as he decided what to say. When I think about it now, he was hardly older than my oldest current students. A brilliant musician for sure, but not schooled in human communication.
But how should he have dressed up what he was going to say?
I have a waiting list as long as my arm. People are hoping for a chance to study with me. You have one, but you’re not taking it. You’re talented, but you don’t want to work on what’s hard for you.
I was dying inside, so embarrassed. Some spark inside my head was listening, but I was barely aware of it as most of me waited for this to be over.
You know, there’s no shame in having a gift but not wanting to work on it like a professional. I think you should take some time off. Decide what you want music to be in your life. If you want it to have some non-professional but high level importance in your life? that’s great. We need those people. But if you want to be a musician? you need to seriously recalibrate your priorities and your work. And you’ll do so under the guidance of another teacher.
At first I went home for vacation. I did many an impressive narrative with my friends as audience, casting my teacher as the villain. And he had villainous qualities, so that was easy.
But it only took a few weeks to realize that I really, truly, deeply wanted to try for a musician’s life – and that my teacher was right about me, that I didn’t want to address what scared me, what I was bad at.
I went back to school, and had to look for someone who might take me in their studio. I will always be grateful to Jan Meyer and Andre DeGroote for having the patience and kindness to help me complete my undergraduate degree.
I tried to hold you back, but you were stronger
And now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose
I keep thinking about how to have the same hard conversations with more kindness, compassion, and method. But thank god for that straightforward, difficult day 35 years ago. Steven, if you’re listening wherever you are, thanks.
Steven DeGroote was the first person to call me on the carpet, call me on my BS. It sucked, and it was easy to take apart how he did it. But he did it, and I’m a professional because of it.
Waterloo I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Waterloo knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo finally facing my Waterloo