*Author’s Note: The point of contention addressed by this piece turned out to be a semantic misunderstanding. However, the greater issue is believed by the author to be important enough to render the piece a valid contribution to the overriding dialogue. Thank you all for reading.
I just spent the evening with a table full of qualified professionals. A remarkable collective, really. One award winning, internationally celebrated soloist (who really was the life of the party); two versatile percussionists, one of them on the brink of completing a doctorate in music theory, the other executive director of a symphony orchestra; at least one opera composer, with a history as a Metropolitan tenor; an accomplished flutist with an arts management degree, currently in charge of a chamber orchestra; a harpsichordist, with a doctorate in musical arts and an international resume as performer and juror; a tubist, with a full time college instructorship and a degree in music administration; a published historian and ethnomusicologist; a science education specialist; and, two arts marketing associates.
Oh; and: me.
Having chosen to save my earnings for many years, at this juncture I hold few of what most would call printed credentials. Beyond the undergraduate degree in music education, I carry nothing on paper except the music currently on the docket in my satchel, and a recorded resume of nearly a lifetime of works performed.
Perhaps somewhat blindly, I operated for over two decades under the erroneous assumption that doing was of greater value than submitting time and money to training. I truly believed that demonstrating a capacity to execute at a high level carried its own legitimacy.
But, subtly, time made its indelible mark on all that. Now, I find myself surrounded by individuals who easily welcome each other into their “ranks” – be they academia, or administration, or the world stage – in an unspoken acknowledgement of collegiality. They arrive, resumes in tow, and receive automatic power of place.
Last fall, I purchased a coveted musical instrument: a brand new Steinway Model M grand piano. This investment was made possible by a lifetime of daily effort – working in public education as a music teacher, performing in two local orchestras, and saving most of my income for the future. Contrary to what may be assumed, I took not a penny from either my father or my mother, or anybody else, to finance this acquisition.
My father, a self-employed barber, counted his money on the kitchen table every Friday night, stacking the coin and single bills. A self-employed seamstress and part time semi-automatic machine operator, my mother had saved – at the time of her death – some $70,000 which was placed into an annuity and eventually divided equally between her three offspring. My portion remains in an interest bearing account. No; I did not use that small inheritance to purchase this piano.
But, there are those who raise at least a corner of an eyebrow when they find out that the girl who never made it onto the roster of the academically accomplished found enough cash for a Steinway. Such valued instruments are customarily seen only amongst the performance elite. And, in order to be considered among them, one must present, you guessed it: the pedigree.
Well, allow me.
The term “pedigree” is used most commonly to define the breeding history of domestic animals. When I hear anybody utter the word, I experience a momentary reaction. My body adjusts its position, and the image of a stiffly postured, condescending British male in a topcoat and dress hat, with neck scarf and walking stick, takes shape in my consciousness.
Apart from that bestowed by both my parents, and their parents before them, I have none such. What I bring to the table are the fingers and thumbs on my two hands, the arms that bear them, and the mind and heart that drives them to action. There may not be a credentialed appointment with my name attached, but there will be music made, just the same.
After enjoying a sumptuous dinner of steak and potatoes, and sharing a chocolate dessert with my dinner companions I managed to offend at least one of them by inquiring into her position and misappropriating a term by identifying a colleague, whose position had been eliminated, as her mentor. She insisted that her pedigree didn’t include the referenced colleague at all. Apparently, when one has reached high rank, one doesn’t take kindly to being diminished by assumptions regarding how such status was achieved. There is a protocol to this business of acknowledgement, after all – and, arriving uninformed is the first insult.
To combat loneliness in advancing age, acquiring a pet is strongly advised. I’m told that lap dogs, for those allergic to cat dander, are portable and can even be house trained. After tonight, I’ve decided to seriously consider various breeds. Mine would have to be small, sweet, bright, and alert, but quiet and affectionate. Perhaps I should spend concentrated effort in this search; after all, if people really see this here girl only as a barber’s daughter who happens to love the hell out of playing the piano and cello, a dog with a real pedigree might be just the ticket to save her from total oblivion.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 2/14/16 All rights those of the author, even if she doesn’t have her own office. Thank you.