I don't know why I clicked on my long-neglected blog, but I did and decided to write on something I'd been thinking about for some time now. In the last year and half, it's been my good fortune and pleasure to reconnect with two of my dearest friends in the world, Kevin and Caroline Flanigan. I've known Kevin since we were both high schoolers, albeit at different ends of the State of Illinois. When he started dating Caroline our junior year of college, it took about five minutes for her to be "in".
We reconnected back at the old University of Illinois, where Kev and Caroline's daughter, Abby, attends and studies classical piano. Kevin and I were both trumpet performance majors (and of course, we ended up as a doctor and lawyer - naturally!). Reconnecting in the context of Abby doing what we did (studing music at the U of I), and with the inevitable deep reflection and reminiscing about our particular "old days," made me think what a wonderful time of discovery that was for us: for a four-year period in undergrad, we got up every day and in essence had one primary goal: "How do I play the trumpet better today?" We had plenty of room for other activities, not all of which were about drinking beer (Kevin had a pretty brutal existence prepping for medical school as his interests turned elsewhere), but still, that was the prime mission, which also encompassed lots of other, related activities - learning and experiencing as much new music as we could, both as performers and listeners. Days were taken up by classes and practicing, then rehearsing with various ensembles in the late afternoon (sometimes several - some days I was tied up in rehearsals from 3 until 9), and then attending (or giving) a performance at night. At a big ol' state school, there was an interesting performance nearly every night - something you'd never heard before or that you just couldn't miss - your professor performing L'Histoire du Soldat, a visiting world-class orchestra, a student production of a Puccini opera, a "new music" ensemble - you name it, followed by a U of I big band at Treno's or a combo at Nature's Table - sometimes students, sometimes professors, sometimes NYC or Chicago jazz veterans. At times, we'd attend musical performances seven days a week, often times multiple performances.
Now, of course, time is precious and in seemingly ever-shorter supply. It seems like such a true luxury to spend a big part of every day pursuing an art that you love, trying to experience it in every way possible, drinking in everything from pre-baroque music played on original instruments, to classical, to discovering Stravinksy, to hearing and/or playing the oddest music of John Cage and Milton Babbitt, to listening to your colleagues discover for the first time the great American songbook and the hippest Wayne Shorter tunes, to hitting the music library to try to figure out why Duke Ellington's big band sounded so great on those tunes you were struggling with in your own jazz band - then get up and do it all over again the next day. And trying to do all this on a few spare nickels (back in the day when you had to plan your record purchases very carefully - did you need that Maurice Andre recording of Albinoni sonatas, or was it more important to get the next Bix Beiderbecke record, or Duke and Ella at the Côte d'Azur? Choices, choices, choices!)
So, now having had some modest success as a big firm lawyer and accumulated a few "things," it led me to wonder - when did I have the more decadent life, then or now? In some of the most meaningful ways, "then" - and not even close.