Saturday, July 07, 2007

07. 07. 07

Superstition is alive and well. A record number of weddings have been taking place worldwide, wherever our Western calendar is observed. Seven is considered a magic and blessed number by many in various cultures. If only a key to a successful marriage were that simple! The date didn’t prove to be a blessing to Iraqis who lost another 150 as victims of a car bomb. What a terrible bloodbath we managed to start in the area that once was the birthplace of civilization. An Iraqi doctor in the U.K. tried his best to show his gratitude for the mayhem with a few colleagues of his, but with very limited success. One must hope that he and his pals did a better job while practicing medicine. What are we to expect next, perhaps certain orchestra musicians and conductors blowing each other up? That might not be counted as a terrorist act, some would argue.

I’m celebrating two personal anniversaries. The first one is not a happy one, marking a year when I suddenly lost sensation in my feet. By now I’ve become used to the numbness and the pain that is there with every step, and I am able to walk the three-mile loop in my favorite location in Seattle, Discovery Park. All it takes is refusing to pay attention to the burning sensation, and instead letting my soul be filled by the magnificent views and almost magical trees surrounding the paths in the forest. Observing nature’s wonderful creatures, from all varieties of birds (I have seen both pheasants and bald eagles there) to the busy mountain beavers, certainly helps to forget.

This date also marks three decades since I emigrated here from Europe. I had spent time here as a student and met my first wife in my late teens in the Heifetz Masterclass. We had lived in both Finland and Sweden. She had promised to her dying father to return to Los Angeles, and there was little I could do other than accept it. We had two little girls, aged seven and three (more magic numbers!) and this was supposed to be for their best as well. I knew from the beginning that for me the move was a mistake, at least artistically. I went from having a rather busy solo career to becoming a studio musician, eventually joining a chamber group on the side.

Although there were fabulous musicians playing the studio circuit, nobody really cared about music as an art form. The era of great film scores was nearing its end and much of the well-paying work felt like prostitution. We were compensated for our time, not talent. Females, especially the younger ones, were expected to do favors in order to be hired, or at least this was the impression people had. I remember a certain violinist actually sucking the concertmaster’s ear during a session at Warner Bros. Another musician gave birth to a composer’s baby. During breaks players talked about investments and restaurants, never music. One recording session late at night stays in my memory. The contractor who had hired us knew from the onset that neither the composer nor the music would be arriving on time. This sadistic old man made us tune and sit quietly for the hour, then gave us a ten-minute break, to start this bizarre silent ritual again for two more hours. We were paid to be there and he didn’t tolerate any conversation or reading, no matter how discreet. At the end of the three hours we were excused.

The little orchestra was hardly a great source of inspiration. The conductor seemed more interested in having an affair with one of the young married violinists than creating an engaging musical atmosphere. Hollywood and its crazy values weren’t good for my marriage either, and it soon became obvious that it was approaching its end. Luckily I found a soul mate in that little group; or rather she decided to rescue me. Eventually we got married and left town for Seattle which at least had fresh air in beautiful setting between the Puget Sound and the Cascades. With its large Scandinavian population the area reminded me of home. Musically it was even less sophisticated than Los Angeles and very provincial, still true today. There were some truly wonderful and colorful old-timers, though, and that made up for the “Wild West” atmosphere. Politically Seattle was liberal enough which felt good after the L.A. scene. We found a comfortable house with a big back yard for our three Boston terriers, and soon were busy raising two daughters.

So, do I have regrets? Definitely I do, as I sacrificed my career for meaningless work, but at the same time I am grateful for my second family. I guess it all was meant to happen. Presently I am content with life. Although many people have told us that certain malicious individuals tried their hardest to make us leave here a few years ago, I manage to be busier than ever. Life has gone a full circle for me: like in my youth I’m playing with the nicest people and doing what I like best, teaching, and performing enough to keep my chops in top form. Sure, the present situation in this country is scary, but then I grew up having the Soviet Union right next door. Living with threats and fear is something I’m used to.

Will I ever move back? It is a possibility and of course depends on how this country’s domestic and foreign problems are solved, if at all. My girls seem to have an interest in their other home country. Both my younger daughters will travel there this summer. The youngest is leaving tomorrow to spend time with her Finnish girlfriend, and my college senior will fly there next month to study the European Union in the University of Helsinki’s summer school. They are lucky to have dual citizenship and to have access to any EU country, residing and working where ever they desire.

Time will tell whether 07.07.07 was a good day, perhaps the beginning of something great for us and mankind. It could also as well have been the start of something quite the opposite, such as a catalyst for a new World War. Often during a pessimistic moment I feel as if it is already taking place and that we are not exactly innocent in causing it.

I want to give my best wishes to all those married today, in hopes of a happier tomorrow.

Photos © Ilkka Talvi:
Discovery Park
Anna & Sarah Talvi