December 28, 2012
Giving interviews is something musicians have to do surprisingly often—we usually do them to stir up a little interest and sell a few tickets to our concerts. On one occasion last summer my radio interviewer had done his homework well. He knew a great deal about me, and the music I was going to perform the next evening. Even more gratifying, the
questions he asked were probing and interesting.
That’s not always the case. Interviewers often ask the same lackluster questions over and over—not that I really blame them. After all, their job is to get at the basic facts first and foremost. Where were you born? When did you start playing the violin? Did you hate practicing as a kid? How many hours do you put in daily? When did you decide to become a musician? And so on.
Of course, it’s partially the interviewee’s fault that interviews can be so tedious. Would it be such a sin for musicians to spice up answers a little? Instead of my saying, “I was born in Los Angeles,” how about, “I was born in semi-tropical Los Angeles with fruit trees of all kinds growing in our backyard.” That gives the city and my early life a little more allure, don’t you think? Then there’s this plain-Jane answer I normally give to another basic question: “I started playing the violin when I was six.” Wouldn’t it be better to change that to: “When I was six, my elementary school music teacher, Mr. Singer, knocked on mom and dad’s door and offered me a quarter-size violin, instruction, and a place in the school’s beginners orchestra—all for a two dollar deposit. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse.” See what I mean. It’s an answer rich with meaning and significance. I’m definitely going to use it next time around.
But no matter how much I improve my interview skills, they will always be mediocre in comparison with those of a fellow musician I once met. He had the impressive ability to craft answers that were not only interesting individually but also collectively told a moving and inspirational story.
I met him (name deleted to protect his identity, but let’s call him ‘A’ for
anonymous) at the (name deleted) Music Festival in (country deleted). ‘A’ was a wonderful (instrument deleted)-ist, but unusually quiet in social situations. It was hard to get a word out of ‘A’ which I attributed to a certain reserve or shyness. I asked a friend at the festival about him. To my surprise, he told me that ‘A’ had a completely different and much more flamboyant side to his personality that surfaced now and then.
“For example,” he continued, “’A’ once gave a television interview that is still being talked about. The interviewer began with some typical questions such as: Where were you born? How old were you when you started playing? etc. To this point, ‘A’’s answers were straightforward and unremarkable. But when ‘A’ was asked whether he hated practicing, he told the interviewer that his father had carved from wood a musician figure holding its instrument to keep him company. How could he hate practicing when that enchanting toy musician was always with him? To the question of how many hours a day ‘A’ practiced, he said that he began to practice several hours daily when his father constructed a miniature platform with many carved musician figures on it so that they might inspire him. And as to when ‘A’ finally decided to become a professional musician, he said it was the day that his father presented him as a birthday present with an entire model concert hall he had built complete with stage, tiers of seats, curtains, and audience figures. You can well imagine how the interviewer enthused about ‘A’s life, but especially about his gifted father. The interviewer asked what his father did for a living. “A” said that he was a puppeteer by profession and greatly in demand. He went on to name his father’s
shop and the street address in the oldest part of the city where it was located.
“What a remarkable story,” I exclaimed. My friend looked off in the distance. “You’re not the only one who thought so”, he said. “The television station was deluged with calls as soon as the interview finished. No one working there could remember any interview of the hundreds that had taken place over the years having such a response. Without exception, the viewers who called in were both moved and inspired by ‘A’s story”.
My friend grew silent for a moment and then continued. “About an hour passed and then suddenly, the station was once more deluged with calls from viewers. Only this time it was not in praise of the delightful story they had just heard. It seems that people were so affected by the puppeteer’s fatherly love and whimsical artistry, that they felt impelled to visit his shop and see his work in person.” This part of the story made no sense. “Why call the station? Just visit the puppeteer’s shop,” I blurted out impatiently. My friend regarded me sadly. “You don’t understand, do you? Viewers called the station again because they couldn’t find the name of the puppeteer’s shop or even the name of the street where it was located in the old city.” An odd sort of smile passed over my friend’s face. “’A’s father was not a puppeteer, he had no shop, and the street in the old city didn’t even exist. ‘A’ had made the whole thing up for the interview.”
I sometimes think of ‘A’, especially when I’m about to give an interview. Once or twice, I’ve even been tempted to embellish my answers to the usual questions just to spice things up a little. But then I say to myself, no, there’s only one ‘A’ in the world with a puppeteer father who carves entire concert halls for him. Lucky to have such a father, don’t you think?
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