November 22, 2012
You think quitting smoking is hard? Try quitting a string quartet. My four-step program might help violist Samuel Rhodes, who just announced his retirement from the Juilliard String Quartet at the end of the season. The following is my letter to him.
I read the news of your retirement from the Juilliard String Quartet at the end of this season with a mix of emotions. Undoubtedly, you have been blessed to be a part of the renowned Juilliard Quartet for an astonishing 44 years, and the quartet has been equally privileged to have had such a distinguished violist and musician as yourself in their midst. I, along with all our colleagues, thank you for your artistry and your great contribution to the string quartet genre. But doing anything over and over again for an enormous stretch of 44 years, even something as exalted as playing string quartets, has its down side when that activity ceases to be. Sammy, as a friend, I must warn you that without the rehearsals, the stimulating discussions, the thrill of performance, and the public acclaim that you have experienced for decades, there can be severe withdrawal symptoms. I know.
When our Guarneri String Quartet retired three years ago after having performed together for 45 years, I was faced with the very same situation as you. The good news is that I’ve successfully made the transition into a new life. And having done that, I feel the need to help others do the same. Therefore, I’ve decided to offer a four-step program for recovering string quartet players. I call it “Four-No-More.”
Here is my “Four-No-More” string quartet recovery program specifically designed for you, Sammy:
Step #1: Saying Goodbye.
Seated in quartet position, hold hands with your esteemed colleagues, Joseph Lin, Ronald Copes, and Joel Krosnick. Look them lovingly in the eyes (not necessary if they drowned out your viola solo in the Schrattenholz Quartet the other night). Then close your eyes and instead of intoning the traditional “ommm” during meditation, sing the opening 12 notes, the great fugal theme, of Beethoven’s Quartet Opus 131 in C Sharp minor. This will summon up memories of the great string quartet repertoire you have been so intimately acquainted with all these years (but unfortunately also all the missed planes, bad food, and lumpy beds while on tour).
Step #2: String Quartet Detoxification.
Bring every single string quartet recording you own plus an ample supply of food, water, and toilet paper together. Without interruption, play the recordings one after another. At first, you will undoubtedly revel in the miracle that this music is, but after a while your mind may begin to wander and eventually you will think: enough already. This is the crucial moment in the recovery process when you must not, I repeat, NOT stop listening to string quartets. It may take hours, days, weeks, or even months, but there will come a time when you will begin to beat your fists against the walls and scream over and over again, “Four no more.” At this moment, and only at this moment, will your string quartet detoxification be complete.
Step #3: Smelling the Roses Again.
With the Juilliard String Quartet a thing of the past, you will have more time for a host of other things. Read a book. See a play. Watch some Sponge Bob Square Pants or Judge Judy on TV. Also, hang out more with your family. Take your beloved wife, Hiroko, to McDonald’s. Attend some Philip Glass concerts with your wonderful daughters, Amy and Harumi. Then again, you might consider new hobbies such as stamp collecting, one of the martial arts, or spelunking. An exciting new world awaits you.
Step #4: New Professional Horizons.
This is key to a successful next chapter in your life, Sammy. I’m glad to read that you have other projects in mind including a contribution to the technical literature for viola. While pursuing these goals, be sure to limit your practicing to no more than eight hours daily. I know. I know. If you don’t practice, somebody else will. Moving on, may I be so bold as to suggest yet another possibility for your future—one that is innovative and daring if I do say so myself. Join a heavy metal band. I see you shaking your head vehemently, Sammy, but think a moment before you say “no way, Fauré.” There you are, Samuel Rhodes, with hair down to your shoulders and adoring groupies tugging at your torn jeans, the first violist ever in a heavy metal band.
I hope my “Four-No-More” program will be of some use. You may be wondering what my life has been like after the Guarneri Quartet disbanded. I enjoy going for long walks along the Hudson River while humming to myself. The only thing is that snippets of string quartet passages occasionally sneak in. At that point I stop dead in my tracks and sternly reprimand myself, “Bad Arnold,” I say out loud. Then I repeat 100 times, “Four no more.”
I wish you everything good and stimulating in your new life, but please remember, Sammy, there is life after string quartets.
Yours in friendship and admiration,
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