Saturday, December 13, 2014

Death of a Pianist

I hesitate to write anything about this sad end to an outstanding musician's career, but perhaps something should be said. Music critic Scott Cantrell writes in the Dallas Morning News:
It’s hard to imagine that we won’t be seeing Jose Feghali around town anymore: that million-volt smile, that well-focused baritone always bursting with enthusiasm. As winner of the 1985 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the Brazilian-born, London-trained pianist had a major career early on, and, as artist-in-residence at Texas Christian University’s School of Music, he had become a go-to teacher. He was very much a presence on the Fort Worth musical scene, and those who knew him loved him.
What went wrong? On Tuesday, the day after he had been discussing future projects with his dean, Feghali’s body was found in his bed, a bullet hole in his head. The medical examiner ruled suicide.
I have very mixed feelings about competitions generally. They force young musicians to subject themselves to unbelievable pressures with, I'm sure, long-term psychological results. We don't know and the article offers only speculation about the reasons for Feghali's taking his own life. A lot of the comments at Slipped Disc condemn the tone of the article's reporting for its insensitivity and invasion of privacy. Let's not commit any of that here!

 Perhaps I can talk a bit about the pressures on a classical musician through my own life. The most harsh disciplines are those we impose on ourselves and developing the technical and musical resources to be a touring soloist has to be one of the toughest disciplines of all. For hours every day of your life you must perform a series of exercises that are as mentally tiring as they are physically demanding. In addition, you must learn new repertoire from memory and polish old repertoire. You must travel to play concerts and this gets more exhausting every year with the ever-growing security requirements and the capriciousness of airline employees regarding transport of your instrument.  For most of us the fees are tiny and the expenses high. There are an ever-ready host of those eager to exploit your naiveté, your time, your talent, for their own purposes. Yes, of course, there are profound rewards for all this, I'm just pointing out the pressures.

So, it is perhaps inevitable that some musicians simply crumple under the constant strain. Perhaps even contemplate suicide. One's identity is so wrapped up in being a musician, it might be difficult to even imagine other solutions. But they exist. I think there are always paths out of a difficult situation in your career or personal life. Sometimes you need some patience to wait for a solution to present itself. That's about all I have to contribute...


Rickard Dahl said...

Well, I don't know the exact circumstances of his life but one general advice would be to not put all eggs in one basket so to speak. Sometimes careers in for instance music fail or become too demanding (as the case might have been here) and the effects can be very severe. However, if he for instance would learn other skills or acquire knowledge on the side he could maybe learn a trade or study at an university and get another profession and continue with the music on the side. Another general advice is to realize that only your own perception of yourself truly matters, you can't rely on others to give you validation all the time or to understand you. Only you can find true value in yourself and only you can truly understand yourself. A third one would be to pursue your passions. Too many people work where they work because they have to rather that they want to and their job sucks the life out of them. If they can't become something else then they should focus their free time on their passions. In this case though I assume that piano playing was his passion so this point probably doesn't apply.

Bryan Townsend said...

Music is particularly an "all your eggs in one basket" kind of field. That's because success in music usually means starting quite young. Typically musicians do nothing else their whole lives--and they often come from musical families. So the idea of doing something else just seems impossible. If things are going well, this isn't a problem. But if you have a problem, then music can seem like a trap and you wonder what you can possibly do.

Yes, you are right--the problem for most people is quite different: trying to find the passion.