Here I am talking with a talented young pianist at the very enjoyable masterclass I gave at Bowdoin College in Maine a few days ago. It was enjoyable partly because of the students and partly because of the audience, which included some townsfolk not used to coming to such events. One of them said to me afterwards, ‘It had never occurred to me to go to hear someone else having a music lesson, but I’m glad I did!’
I am home from the USA with many impressions to digest. When I’m in a new city, I like to walk around and see what life is like there. In Europe one is not conspicuous when doing so. But walking around in American cities often gives one a strange slice of life, because so many Americans are wedded to their cars. Not many people are out on the streets. I often noticed that when I mentioned I had walked across town, people were astonished. One person told me that she has friends who will hardly walk a block. Walking around all day ‘just for fun’ seems to mark one out as eccentric. To walk aimlessly around in the downtown area of any major American city is to share the streets with the disenfranchised – people who don’t have or can’t afford cars. It gives a strange, and I suppose one-sided impression of what the population of the town is like.
My favourite thing that happened in America on this trip was something unexpected. One sunny morning I was alone in a sunlit concert hall, practising Mozart’s A minor Rondo. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone slip in at the back of the hall and stand behind a screen, listening. It seemed a benign presence, so I didn’t say anything. Late that evening I had an email from that person, a Chinese student, thanking me for a special experience. It was a beautifully worded and thoughtful message which made me feel we were characters in an ancient Chinese novel of courtly life.
This is one of the (potentially) good things about the internet – that if you are moved to write to a stranger, you can usually find out how to contact them. In the old days, it was such a daunting task to figure out how to reach someone you had never met that mostly you didn’t even try. Many impulsive messages remained unsent. Now I get lots of messages out of the blue from people who heard or read this or that and feel like saying something about it. I love this sort of correspondence. The Chinese girl’s unexpected message will stick in my mind as the nicest thing to happen on my visit to America this year.