The Calm Above the Storm
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I don't know about you, but here in the land of perpetual self-invention, I'm always on the lookout for a new role model. Sometimes I crave the wiry self-possesion of a Clint Eastwood or the smug chin of some new streak of success. When I see a tough dealmeister wearing a Hawaiian shirt, I think: where can I get a Hawaiian shirt?
A couple weeks ago I found myself at the Hollywood Bowl, where friends had invited me to their box for spiced ahi and arugula with feta cheese. We had a vague idea the concert itself would include Russian music, but at the Bowl, it's often not about the music. Often, you only half listen. I mean you have to consider the last of the wine, the last of the sky, the last days of summer.
At some point, however, I did become aware that someone was playing Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto. I looked up at the huge projection screen and saw the face of the pianist—handsome, thirty-ish.
Little by little, I became fascinated that despite the surging Russian soul of the piece, the rising of its passions, and the white-capped storms of its arpeggios—his features remained totally calm, his back straight, breathing even, tux unruffled. Okay, now and then, I noticed a momentary concentration around the eyes. But no frowns, no transports, no grand gestures.
I searched the program for his name: Nikolai Lugansky. And I thought, "Surely, here is a new role model for the Urban Man. I mean, what could be better than to have a soul of potent Russian currents, but to maintain a controlled and refined exterior? To be the placid sea under which fearsome creatures prowl?"
Okay, I realize that Angelenos generally frown on self-control. I know we usually prefer folks who break down in front of microphones, get arrested at concerts, or smirk into cameras. On the other hand, I thought, "Maybe it's time for a…more sophisticated approach."
After the applause came dessert, and by the drive home I had pretty much forgotten about Lugansky.
But lo, a few days later, I found myself lunching with a fool. Worse, a self-confident fool. Worse, a self-confident fool with power over my fortunes. I won't say he was a client, for I would never insult a client over the air. Let's just say he threw his weight, he dismissed my experience, he wagged a finger and said things like, "Pay attention, because I'm only going to say this once."
Sure enough, Russian emotions rose in my soul. I felt dark inner currents. I wanted to take this fool by the collars and foment a revolution.
But suddenly, I thought: "What would Nikolai do?"
At once, I recalled the pianist's calm regard. His mastery of himself. And I thought, "I will not deny my anger; that would be a surrender of the soul. I will let monsters seethe, I will allow bitter depths to roil. But like Nikolai, I will keep my face calm, my voice gentle, my finger-work precise. I will play this man like a Steinway."
Immediately, I became elegant, even friendly. I said to the fool, "Naturally, I agree with your concerns. Still, we have limited time, and I'm eager to get your thoughts on this new proposal."
I would never credit Rachmaninoff for such insights. Rachmaninoff was an emo guy who wrote great, but emo music. No, I give all credit to this Nikolai Lugansky. In fact, after this experience, the Urban Man has temporarily put aside all other role models—you know, loud local harlequins and hard-chinned players. I've purchased Nicolai's CD, and every day, I try to spend a little time listening to the beasts go swimming beneath a placid sea.
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada.
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