All Over Creation: Hit Where You Live
A recital at a holiday soiree confirms there's no place like home for art
So there I am, grazing at the buffet line, stuffing the old piehole with just about everything but pie (beef tenderloin, grilled asparagus, shrimp, holiday cookies, etc.), when there comes a sound that slices through the white noise of holiday party chatter like a hot knife through figgy pudding: piano music. And not the kind that you'd expect during a holiday party, not the jaunty carols that draw people to the keyboard like moths to a flame, leading to the inevitable sing-along, and not their contemporary counterparts starring Rudolph or Frosty or a lip-locking Saint Nick, jazzed up by some would-be Vince Guaraldi – no, it's nothing seasonal at all, nothing with lyrics even. Is that a Chopin polonaise? A Beethoven bagatelle? I confess, I'm not on good enough speaking terms with the Dead Composers Society to be able to name that tune, but it's a classical piece, and it's being played by someone who not only can name it but also knows every note intimately. I abandon the kitchen for the living room, where I find Anton Nel – yes, that Anton Nel, professor of piano at UT's Butler School of Music, fresh from soloing with the Austin Symphony – seated at the Steinway, merrily playing away for no one in particular. Most partiers keep right on conversing, as if it's just standard soiree background music supplied by a pianist for hire. Me, I've shut that old piehole of mine, thinking, "I'm getting to hear one of the finest musicians in our city – strike that, on our planet – play in a person's home, where I'm as near to him as I would be to my television were I watching it at my house." And that proximity allows me to see his fingers dance a ballet across the keys every bit as enchanting as any waltz from The Nutcracker. Their spirited movement is echoed in the sound, the notes bounding and capering through the air in a frolic. And even with all the voices competing for my ears' attention, Nel's mastery can be clearly heard.
The impromptu concert lasts all of 10 minutes, I think, but as brief as it is, it's still a wonder – not least because of where it happened. I don't mean the specific home where the party was held (though heaven knows it's splendid, and thanks to James Armstrong and Larry Connelly for welcoming me into it) but in a home, period. A work of art feels different in a place where people live, where someone has carved out a personal space in the world where they can rest and cook and break bread with loved ones and share time with friends and attend to their most intimate needs; this is the room of their own, with what's in it reflecting what matters to whomever lives there. In that space, art – whether it's a painting, a dance, a piano performance, or whatever – is integrated into all those other terribly personal activities of life. It doesn't exist apart in a specially constructed venue you have to go to in order to connect with art; art's in ur base, filling ur soulz. Art in a home is imbued with the intimacy of that space. That's part of what makes Nel's little recital so remarkable: the feeling that I'm so close to the art, as well as the artist. It may not be my home, but it hits me where I live.
The experience makes me crave more of the same, and I'm reminded of a blog post in The New York Times Arts section from the day before that may relate to satisfying that craving. Meet me back here next week, and I'll share with you how. In the meantime, why not share a memorable encounter you've had with art in a home, either yours or someone else's? I'd love to hear about it.