I have just returned home from a trip to Dublin, Ireland, where I had the great pleasure of playing a concert with many of my fellow winners of the Dublin International Piano Competition: Phillippe Cassard, Pavel Nersessian, Davide Franceschetti, Alexei Nabioulin, and Romain Descharmes, along with the founder of the competition, John O'Conor. (The two other winners, Antti Siirala and Alexej Gorlatch, couldn't be there). The first half included each pianist playing a short solo piece, and after intermission we returned as a group to play some pieces (arranged) for seven pianos. Here is a photo I took while the piano tuner was scrambling to get all of these 9-foot Steinway Model D's tuned:
I've been to Ireland about 15 times, I'd say, and the people I know are all very eager to be helpful. I usually stay in a friend's home (this time my friends Myles and Laurie), and if I ever need to go somewhere, there are people who are quick to offer me a ride in their car. But a few days ago I ended up taking the train (the "DART") to get from Dublin's Royal Irish Academy of Music (I'd been practicing) to the home where I was staying. And I realized that I LOVE taking public transportation, especially when I am away from home. I have very happily ridden the subway in London, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow, New York, Chicago. In fact I vastly prefer taking the train to riding in a taxi. When I left Dublin I very happily took a bus from the city centre to the airport - in fact I was happier doing that than I had been on the taxi I took from the airport when I arrived.
It made me wonder why. I think what I like about it is the independence. I grew up in Los Angeles, where most people I know go everywhere by car. When I came to Boston for school, the idea that I could hop on the Red Line and go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, was wonderfully liberating. But I wonder whether being a pianist has helped contribute to this preference for independence. Pianists, when playing solo piano repertoire, don't need to ask for anyone's opinion when making musical decisions (this of course is different when playing music for 7 pianos!) and when we take public transportation, it feels less like we are depending on someone else. (Of course this is partly an illusion, as we all depend on the driver of the train, and are subject to limitations of the train's schedule and route). I have noticed that different musical instruments tend to be correlated to different personalities, and pianists tend to be the loners, the eccentrics, the dreamers, the awkward nerds. And I bet I'm not the only pianist who prefers the independence of public transportation to the dependence of asking for a ride.