Yesterday, after finishing the day's Hume post, I spent several very pleasant hours watching [on my computer, courtesy of Netflix] a 2009 documentary about the life and music of Beethoven. I actually knew very little of the details of Beethoven's life, which were instructive, but it was the music that captivated me. There were extended close-ups of a variety of very accomplished pianists, violinists, cellists, and singers performing extended selections from the entire corpus of Beethoven's work [and also some enchanting moments with Emmanuel Ax at the piano discussing Beethoven's technique and innovations.]
As an amateur violist, I am keenly aware of the simply enormous amount of intense, focused work that is required to achieve a technique sufficient even to raise questions of musical interpretation. A first-rate concert performer does things on a daily basis that are so much harder than anything I have ever done, so much more impressive than anything that a political commentator does, that I am in a condition of perpetual awe and admiration for the men and women who have mastered a classical instrument. The nonsense that one hears on American Idol or at a Rock concert pales into insignificance.
Becoming a Yo-Yo Ma is undoubtedly not open to all of us, but becoming an accomplished professional musician pretty much is, if one is willing to spend six, eight, or ten hours a day for years practicing. Writing a doctoral dissertation is child's play by comparison.
Since moving to Chapel Hill, I have stopped playing. I could not find people to play string quartets with, and simply practicing each day seemed pointless. But there was a time, several years ago, when I could do a creditable job of the viola part in a Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven quartet. It took me eight years of steady practice and lessons to reach that point [only an hour a day of practice, a mere warm up for a real musician], and I imagine that by now those skills have atrophied. But I did it, and for a while, I really was, in some manner or other, a musician. Writing books is a lot easier, trust me.