Lessons from My Mom on Staying Young Forever

My mom’s birthday is this coming Thursday (she would have been 78), so this seemed the right time to post a piece inspired by her. This occurred to me morning, when Ana said, “I was just thinking how grateful I am to your mom.” When I asked why, she said, “Because she gave you such unshakable confidence.” It’s true—and can you think of any greater gift one could give to a child? For that matter, what better gift could one give to anyone than your unshakable belief in them? That’s what this piece, from my book The Zen of MLM, is about. I am 6 years old and I’ve just asked my mom to help me make a list of piano compositions I have learned to play so far. I’ve come up with three, maybe four, all of the two- and three-note variety. (Mozart, I am not.) She glances at the list and comments, “Away in a Manger.” I look at her with genuine astonishment. Away in a Manger?! That’s pretty advanced stuff … I can’t play that! She says, “Sure you can.” We sit down at the keyboard; thirty minutes later, she’s right: I can. I feel exuberant. Come to think of it, everything I’ve been able to accomplish in my life I attribute to youthful exuberance. Not mine: hers. Fast forward seven years. I am 13 and my mom is planning a school trip to Greece with me and about a dozen classmates. We’re going to perform Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. She says, we ought to have music for the choruses. She asks if I wouldn’t mind writing...

Last Letters

Exactly one year ago, my dad died. He lived a very long life (he would have turned ninety this April) and a very rich one, too, and was loved by pretty much everyone who ever met him, none the least of which were his three sons (the middle one of which—the baloney in the brother-sandwich—is me). He had no major illness, no prolonged suffering, no terminal trauma. He just went to bed on a Wednesday night after a normal day and, absent-minded professor that he was, simply never got around to getting up again on Thursday. I think this is the way I’d like to go, when it’s my turn. (I have already placed my order with the Fate & Destiny Dept.) And for that matter, I wouldn’t mind leaving a legacy like his, either. I’ve studied under him (composition and conducting) and performed under him (cello and recorder in his Bach Choir orchestras—even once in Bach’s own church in Leipzig, behind the Iron Curtain, when there still was such a thing), as well as grown up under him. As role models go, it’s hard to imagine one could do better. A few years ago, in the autumn, he was starting to feel used up and began making very Eeyore-like predictions that he would not last the winter. But then he got a new project to work on, and it blew fresh spring air into his life for another handful of years. (Note to self: purpose = longevity.) The project was this: there is a rich correspondence between Johannes Brahms (the famous composer) and Clara Schumann (the pianist and...