In this debut memoir, a young pianist recalls touring the United States with his program of contemporary American music while struggling with his closeted sexuality.
After graduating from music school with honors, Tendler came up with a bold idea: “I’d always wanted to travel, I loved modern American music, and I had nothing else to do. I would call it America 88x50—eighty-eight keys by fifty states.” His program showcased four American art-music composers—Charles Ives, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Alberto Ginastera and Aaron Copland. After emailing his proposal—which he now describes as “a grandiose web of half-truths”—to 50 presenters, he got no positive responses. “Clearly, you are not a professional musician,” said one presenter in an email reply. He decided to tour anyway. Tendler was ill-prepared, at first lacking a website, publicist or even a poster. (He now has a website with sound files, photographs and reviews.) Nevertheless, Tendler lined up a handful of concerts and hit the road, playing wherever he could get a booking—a nursing home, an elementary school, a noisy coffee shop—and eventually, he reached his goal. Even nonmusical readers could become engrossed in Tendler’s narrative as he struggles with self-doubt, logistics, health and coming out, as well as the underlying fight to maintain his pursuit of art through the generosity of others when funding is slim and audiences tiny. The elderly, he discovered, are the most likely to take chances and show up, “while my own hipper-than-thou demographic of twenty-somethings could scarcely ever be found.” In many ways, his quest is personal, though Tendler “learned long ago that only by playing before an audience can a pianist really discover the truth about what they know or don’t know about a piece of music,” and his exploration of this relationship is fascinating. For instance, when he played his dissonant music at a Hurricane Katrina benefit and a disrupted family was in the audience, his host told him that, to them, “Your program made perfect sense.”
An honest, searching exploration of the artist as a young man.