Melissa Reiner

Violinist

Watch her 2015 TEDx talk:

How To Listen Like A Musician

@ TEDxLondonBusinessSchool

 

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Great Love Constant Thought

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Blog: A Musician Abroad

Welcome to the intersection of my two passions: music and literature.

In order to share my musings about life as a performer, I began writing the blog "A Musician Abroad" in 2012. Then I had a dream about a dead composer on a beach, demanding that I tell his story. Alas, I soon found that I preferred writing fiction to writing about myself. And working on a novel is an all-consuming obsession. But as I consider new writing projects again, this blog appeals as a forum for posting both fiction and non-fiction...

Read on and sign up for brief illuminations about music and dispatches from the badlands of my brain.

Do get in touch and let me know what you think, either below or on twitter @melissaviolin :-)

The Secret Seduction

Like many of my generation who cannot subscribe to a religion, cannot fully give over our intellectual doubts to a nebulous higher power, I have become mired in my own mythology, obsessed with my own ethos.

"I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." William Ernest Henley

(And yes, I was aware of the poem before it was used in a movie, thank you very much. Googling merely reminded me that Morgan Freeman quotes it at the film's end. Rather a neat way of wrapping up the dialogue without Mr. Eastwood having to come up with anything profound on his own. Not that I could have done any better.)

Does this notion of domination over destiny lead to cosmic levels of self-absorption, especially in artists? Do we need religion to keep us humble? I was both thrilled and horrified to hear about "The Secret", which is a delicious tome for narcissists. What better way for a narcissist to reaffirm his/her deserving of the high life than by continuing to believe that self-esteem manifests all that we desire, and that poor self-esteem and negative thinking will manifest all that we wish to avoid. Our lives are a self-fulfilling prophecy: losers will continue to lose and winners will continue to win.

This is a particularly appealing concept to my fellow Americans, relentless purveyors of optimism. I felt like a dark, twisted inner cynic until I moved to Britain; here in London I am constantly applauded for my sunny outlook, although roommates who have witnessed my kitchen meltdowns may beg to differ. Like a magnet, I am both drawn to and repelled by the exhortations of "The Secret" and other new-agey self-help philosophies. Part of me would love to believe in the vaguely-Humanist concept of being in charge of my life, relinquishing control to no one else, gods or men. And most of all, believing in my own sure-fire success. How can I hate on positive thinking, yo? Haters gonna hate, if you know your hip hop memes.

So I flirt with New Age positive thinking, which is all pilfered from ancient ideas anyway. I don't go to a church/temple/mosque, but I have regularly attended Yoga classes for more than 10 years; Yoga is often very "spiritual" in Los Angeles but terribly pragmatic here in London. And for all my wishy-washy agnosticism, I find that I miss the spiritual aspect of LA Yoga classes more than I thought I might. (And the London classes don't push me until I want to vomit, which means I'm not as easily toned.) As an artist, who has always believed that the creation (and celebration) of the Arts is one of the best ways to access the metaphysical and divine within us all, I appreciate the quest for transcendence, whether in a house of worship or on the page or in a concert hall or in a yoga studio. The gesture of "Namaste" at the end of a yoga class gives me a gentle reminder of the divine spark within all of us, even as I'm thinking about whether or not I should indulge in a post-class latte (an iced latte in LA, of course). In 3 days, I am actually heading to India, a place I have wanted to visit since I was a child and read "A Passage to India"(please don't be horrified; the politics of the British Empire were not the fault of E.M Forster). I can only hope that a week there will give me a tiny grasp of a country that seems to be a spiritual smorgasbord.

As a musician (and also adding "writer" to my inner and outer identity), I am cursed by interminable self-analysis. Have I been a good friend today? Have I accomplished something artistically? Have I actually made any money? Have I eaten too many cookies? The self-examination is endless; I was born this way (NOT a Lady Gaga reference - shudder) and a lifetime as an artist has only enhanced the inner triumphs and turmoils. But by believing and obsessing in my own fortunes, whether good or ill, I often worry that I am not living in the moment, rejoicing in the things I have. If my existence involves a constant assessment of how I can have more, do more, be more, perhaps I am blind to the current situations giving me pleasure. I was reminded of this when I received a long letter from an old friend who is going through unimaginable legal and personal hell, and yet sounded more positive than he had in years. In his situation, I fear I would lose all sense of joy and hope, and yet it appears that he is dealing with the most appallingly bad luck in a healthy way; his coping mechanisms apparently include meditation and the reading of Buddhist texts. His outlook has inspired me to privately commemorate all that is uplifting along my journeys, not because that will bring more good things into my life, but because there is no better way of combatting the approaching darkness than with memories of the sun.




The Adulation Vampires and other artistic conundrums

Alas, my attempts to blog once a week have been superseded by the pursuit of the pound, or in less crude terms, focusing on revenue-generating activities: jobs and auditioning for more jobs. In related news, I am now on the substitute list for one of London's top orchestras, which I will be happy to brag about in detail once I have worked for them in an official capacity, rather than only knowing that my name exists somewhere on a nebulous list of approved violinists. But it was encouraging to be elevated to The List after one of my best auditions ever, and after 2 weeks of manic preparation, even I was surprised that my nerves behaved under pressure in an audition situation.

After beginning my search for a literary agent (hope prognosis: still very much alive but sinking into a miasma of lassitude), I am bursting with parallels and contrasts between my two favorite/chosen art forms: music and literature, and the industries which peddle their performers and creators in today's world.

Both musicians and writers are obliged to spend large portions of their lives tucked away in voluntary solitary confinement, perfecting their craft before it is unleashed on the world. However, professional musicians emerge from their practicing cocoon in order to interact with their colleagues and listeners, whether in a rock band or an orchestra or even just on one's own, in order to perform for an adoring (slash critical) public. The preparation time for a performance varies from one rehearsal to countless hours of slogging away, but no matter what genre of music, any professional musician will eventually have a live audience, even if most of their work is in a recording studio.

For me, many of my most nerve-wracking concerts (or auditions) have been daunting because I feel that all of my life has led up to that very moment, when an audience will hear and judge my performance. Perhaps I feel the weight of history, looming over me in the form of a revered and dead composer who challenges me to do justice to his genius by executing every note with perfection. Perhaps I feel the expectations of a cultured and knowledgeable audience, who will criticize me for my lack of skill or style. And perhaps I feel the competition of an audition committee, daring me to play well enough for an invitation to join their orchestra. Regardless of the specifics of the situation and the state of one's nerves, the terrifying and exhilarating part of being a performing musician is done when one leaves the stage. It's called "Stage Fright" for a reason, not "Practice Room Fright" or "Rehearsal Fright". A musician's fears are mostly performance-related (or relevancy-related, but that is a subject matter for an entirely different blog).

Like adrenaline-junkies who turn to extreme sports, some musicians get that high (natural high, people, it's a natural high) from performing, and are happiest onstage. They are adulation vampires, sucking praise instead of blood. While not exactly an adulation vampire myself, it is highly gratifying to know that an audience has been touched by my performance, or to hear that a colleague enjoyed sitting next to me because I was prepared and was an invaluable member of an ensemble. And forget the roar of the crowd - if someone tells me they loved an album or soundtrack I was on, that is just as good as the immediacy of applause at the end of a performance.

For all these scenarios, the performance is the pinnacle of achievement, just like a race or a game in sports. Once the performance is over, the outcome is fixed: success or failure. Unlike in the recording studio, where we can keep playing a piece of music until it's perfect, or until there are enough perfect parts recorded to be spliced and diced into one "perfect" take.

Writing is like recording music, but unless a lucky writer has an editor who approves of the final product as being "finished", writers can drive themselves crazy attempting to achieve perfection in a bubble. After a lifetime of being a musician, living by the practice-to-perform-then-relax-and-celebrate model, I found that writing a novel was the easiest part of the craft. It's what comes afterwards that is perplexing me: trying to lure an agent/publisher/readers and receiving completely different feedback from different readers. Creating the arc of a story was made easier by my appreciation of the thousands of wonderful novels I have digested in my time, and it probably didn't hurt that I have logged thousands of additional hours performing and analyzing incredible music. It wasn't too hard for me to find the discipline to sit down and write; after all, if I hadn't learned early on how to discipline myself to sit down and practice the violin, I would not have been able to become a professional.

The difficult thing in writing, and perhaps my biggest hurdle as a musician taking on a new art form, is that once I completed an edit of my novel to my satisfaction, I realized that was the beginning of a new journey: to find an audience. There will be no moment of "Job done - performance over. Let's have a cocktail!" Or ice cream - I have a Pavlovian response to classical music and dessert. I thought that once the novel was finished, it would be all cocktails (or ice cream). But no. While there is no Stage Fright to encounter as a writer (unless you count readings, but that is only for successful writers and besides, a Junior Adulation Vampire like me doesn't think reading my work to an audience is nearly as scary as performing someone else's music), which is a good thing since Stage Fright was very debilitating to my music career at one point, there is also no moment where I can relax and walk away. Even when my novel is printed and officially finished, I have a feeling there will always be things I could have changed.

Rather than agonizing over my novel, which in its current state is the best writing I can do for now, I am working on new projects: practicing for more auditions, writing short stories and even starting the beginnings of a thriller in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to write something lucrative (genre fiction = highly popular). And I will blog more too. But after posting this, I feel a cocktail coming on...what time of day is it? Well ok, ice cream will have to suffice. I'll never get tired of solitary work leading to a reward.

Sexism or Irony? | Stanley and the Women by Kingsley Amis

I discovered the writing of Martin Amis before that of his father; being a literary autodidact, one might suppose that this was the wrong way around. Like an essential familiarity with the American Beat Poets of the 1960’s, I should have been aware of the Angry Young Men of 1950’s Britain. I offer my age as a defence, and media exposure to the post-post-modernists (Amis the son, Haruki Marukami, Jonathan Lethem and company) meant that Martin Amis’ novel “London Fields” practically leaped off the shelves of my local bookstore and into my hand. Once I discovered that Martin came from illustrious literary stock, I found and devoured three Kingsley novels: “Lucky Jim”, “The Old Devils” and “Take a Girl Like You”, all of which satisfied my need for rhythm and refinement of language, crisply-constructed plot, characters who may not be likable but are somewhat relatable, and the added bonus of an alcohol-soaked dose of black humour. Throw in an era of which I have no personal experience and a country that is mine by birthright but still at times of a strange foreignness, and I decided that Kingsley was easily the equal of his son. I must here admit that I have read all of Amis the Younger’s books, but only the abovementioned Amis the Elder’s books until now.

The reason for this personal preface is to impart my state of mind when approaching a new novel by Kingsley Amis. New only to me; Stanley and the Women was released to the world in 1984, the year after I returned from a delightful year at primary school in Cambridge, England, cementing my desire to return to the United Kingdom in the misty future of adulthood. I wanted to like this novel; I was primed for 300 pages of witticisms and pithy observations from the midst of Thatcher’s England. The writing was as economical and carelessly brilliant as I had expected it to be, imparting the feeling of anecdotes related by an articulate friend over a martini or three. Early on in the novel, I even paused my reading to note a particularly evocative place description, not for the poetry of the language (in fact the sentence itself was unwieldy) but for the way in which one casual sentence could evoke all one needed to visualize the room through the narrator’s eyes.

“I found Nowell in a lounge where there would have been plenty of room for a couple of dozen commercial travellers to hang about for the bar to open.”

As a reader, I could picture the seedy loneliness and tacky décor of such a room, and as a writer, I admired the author for steering me into an opinion of a character (Nowell) who lived in a house with that sort of lounge. The remainder of the book is full of such descriptions, both of physical realms and of other characters, and I continued to appreciate Amis’ style and command throughout. As I said, I wanted to like this novel.

Imagine my distress when I began to feel a nagging discomfort about the female characters, of which there are many, and almost none of them sympathetic. After all, the very title declares that multiple women will feature in the life of the main character, Stanley, and a quick read of the book jacket informs the reader that the unexpected insanity of Stanley’s son will be contrasted with the possible insanity of the women who surround Stanley. One is prepared for capricious, neurotic and even potentially malicious women to populate this story. I welcome characters of all archetypes, male or female, and a story of only “good” people would be both cloying and boring. But every single female character in this novel was grating, grasping or generally devoid of empathy, with the exception of a hospital nun/nurse with a few lines and a former lover of Stanley’s who sleeps with him at the end, mostly out of pity. A particularly odious female psychiatrist is so manipulative and power-hungry that she discharges Stanley’s schizophrenic son from the hospital before he is ready for the demands of living at home, leading to a violent incident with Stanley’s second wife. And of course that wife is much more than the endearingly scatty hostess whom we meet at the very opening of the novel.

In contrast to the virtually irredeemable female characters, the males in the book mostly turn out to be far nicer than we anticipated from their initial introductions. The current husband of Nowell (Stanley’s first wife) begins as a boorish antagonist and ends as a friend, after admitting that Nowell has driven him to extremes of bad behaviour in order to cope with marriage to the impossibly self-centered and irrational Nowell. And Stanley’s socially awkward boss makes up for being irritating and insensitive by rewarding Stanley with a coveted and unexpected promotion. Even the insane son is benign, if unpredictable.

Sexism, while dated and old-fashioned, is not the same thing as misogyny, and I am not a flag-waving feminist; I do not need my fictional distractions to feature female empowerment. In any case, strong women are not always appealing in life or in novels, and I am certainly not determined to unearth evidence of sexism in dark corners or in Art. But the stark contrast between the mostly-likeable male characters and the mostly-distasteful female characters was noticeable. And the conclusion of the novel involves a male psychiatrist’s heavy-handed diatribe on the real madness of all women, as well as exposing the true rottenness of Stanley’s second wife.

As I read the final words, I wondered if Kingsley Amis was merely sexist and a product of his generation or an actual (horrors) misogynist. Then it occurred to me that there was one possibility I had stupidly forgotten, especially while reading an author lauded for dark comedy. This was the famous British irony, of which better minds than mine have written. In my earnest American way, I had nearly lumped poor Kingsley into the same category as V.S. Naipaul, a card-carrying misogynist. And since Amis the Elder is no longer around to defend himself from charges of sexism, I will simply have to give him the benefit of the doubt and read more of his works. Next time I’ll keep a lookout for irony.

The Guilty Pleasures of Abbey Road

I experienced a minor epiphany today while listening to a pop song. No, it wasn't by One Direction, but it did involve my sudden and bizarre identification with the sentiments expressed by a bad-boy lead singer (it wasn't the Biebs either - I'm not a teenage girl!), as opposed to feeling like the song's muse/victim, the typical girlfriend-done-wrong trope. Does this mean I have finally taken control of my life, or am I heading for George Michael-dom and seducing men in toilets? (Comic relief alert for friends/family - nothing untoward will actually occur near the porcelain god, I assure you).

This little insight was unusual for me since I have experienced a love/hate relationship with popular music; I can't listen to songs involving the English language when I write or read, for example. And growing up in a household that cultivated a taste for classical music above all other forms of music (Elgar rather than the Eagles, Brahms over the Beatles, you get the picture), I was content to listen to my parents' preferred composers and ignored my sister blasting Guns N Roses (I believe their album, "Appetite for Destruction", might have nearly given my father an apoplectic fit). Secure in my imaginary ivory tower, I convinced myself that it was unique to learn the violin in order to perform the lofty compositions of my long-dead 19th-century European heroes. Eschewing the plebeian taste of my primary school friends who praised bands like Tears for Fears and Duran Duran, I imagined I was the last bastion of culture temporarily mired in blue-collar-ish Northern California.

My stance on Good Taste and High Art and the unworthiness of pop tunes meant that I could not admit, even to myself, when I heard a great tune. Plagued by the occasional heavenly earworm that I would squirm to remove from my mental tape deck, I cursed the ability of certain catchy songs to overwhelm the Beethoven Symphonies set on permanent replay in my head (I still listen to those Symphonies when I want a reminder of the blissful ignorance of my childhood).

 But what child of the 80's can hear the word "Rio" and not be instantly reminded that "Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand"? Well, maybe it's just me. But I think that my resistance to the music enjoyed by my peers made my final capitulation all the more sweet and therefore memorable. Most people remember the first album they bought, cringing at their terrible pubescent taste. Or the opposite, later rejoicing that they had a parent or older sibling who took them to an incredible concert; early U2 or the Grateful Dead or Prince. Whatever floats your boat and makes you think, "That was a moment I shared with 30,000 screaming fans and I was too damn young to realize I was part of Pop History."

Not me. I remember the albums I didn't buy, or hear or experience until I was a highschool or college student. Distinctly I recall my loathing for a noxious boy in 3rd grade wearing a t-shirt that said "The Police" and thinking that I would die rather than hear a band endorsed by the likes of him. While my classmate was indeed worthy of my scorn for various reasons, the band was not, and once I got hooked on Sting as an 18-year-old (and subsequently his possibly greater collection of songs with The Police), I rued my inflexible ban on popular music and my deprivation of songs that I could have been living with for years on my mental tape deck (now upgraded to a mental iPod, of course).

The eventual release from the uptight prison of my own making came from an unlikely source: my fellow classical music students at the Aspen Music Festival. Some classical musicians, whether 14 (the age I was when I first attended Aspen) or 40, are ignorant and dismissive of popular music, preferring the thin air of their ivory tower of High Art. But most of the very best and most interesting classical musicians I know are connoisseurs of music created in the past 50 years, and I'm not talking about John Cage. Listening to a 4-minute opus by Radiohead is just as meaningful as a 45-minute opus by any of my favorite composers, but it's not necessary to compare the experiences as they are equally valid.

So it was through my elite musical peers (future symphony members, professors and soloists) that I learned about albums like "The Joshua Tree"; this is when a complete album was still an important concept. I dived into the 90's with both ears primed for alternative and pop radio. Unfortunately for me, the 90's left a lot to be desired musically: Grunge is heavily masculine (as are certain bands from previous eras, like The Who or Pink Floyd) but I managed to find Britpop to my heart's content (Erasure, anyone? C'mon, I was 16!) and very late in the game, decided that Guns N Roses were pretty f**king cool after all. This was partly under the influence of one of my closest and most talented violinist friends, who seemed to spend much of her senior year at our boarding school in the library crying over magazine articles elaborating on Axl Rose's terrible childhood, or instigating clandestine dance parties in the Music Pavillion set to Metallica's Black Album, rather than practicing the ol' violin. And to think her mother blamed me as the bad influence!

By the time I ran away from graduate school and ended up in Los Angeles, I harbored an open affection for many bands who wouldn't know Bach from Berlioz but had sold millions of albums, and imagine my delight when I began to get hired to play with these celebrities (I don't say artists because frankly, some of my gigs did not involve anything remotely artistic. Remember the name of Jessica Simpson's ex-husband's short-lived boy band? Yeah well, neither can I, but at least the gig paid well). I didn't always get to perform music that I adored, but it felt glamorous and amusing and gave me a lot more cache with my non-musical friends than if I was a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While that too is a wonderful job and is the sort of thing I was actually trained for, being in the Phil doesn't have the same ring to the average person as "The Grammy Awards"; like any professional musician, my ego soaks up enthusiasm.

When entering an iconic studio for a recording session, at a place like Capitol Records in Los Angeles or Abbey Road here in London, I feel my coolness factor rise skywards in a guilty egotistic pleasurable way, but what is really more gratifying and important is that I am a part of something bigger than myself. If I record my violin with a pop artist or for a film score or tv show, I am part of history. Sure, not every artist will last longer than their 15 minutes, and hundreds of films and shows bomb without reaching their intended audience. Or they reach the audience and are roundly derided. But looking at the pictures on the walls of Frank Sinatra or Judy Garland (Capitol) and the Beatles or Stevie Wonder (Abbey Road), I feel privileged to enter the same rooms in order to create a tune or two for posterity.

Besides, the crazy fans I've encountered over the years (not fans of me, simply of the artists I've worked with) have reminded me how exciting my job is, even if it really crushes my ego as much as it inflates it. We supporting musicians see the famous artists we work with as mere humans, petulant or delightful or lazy or hilarious or unfaithful or inspiring, but still as human as we are. But the fans often raise these untouchable entities to the status of gods or demi-gods, and who doesn't enjoy a brief sojourn on Mount Olympus?

Next time I fight my way into the studio, headphones feeding me a tune to drown out the traffic and distract me from my commute and the heaviness of the violin case on my back, past the unflagging stream of tourists re-enacting the ubiquitous album cover (seriously, do those rowdy Italian teenagers own any Beatles songs? Do they?), perhaps I'll experience another insight, inspired by any band that is appreciated by different generations and can remind me why it's good to be alive, doing a job or taking photos or just crossing the street. And that is not a minor epiphany.

From Boxing to Bernstein

One of the pleasures of city-dwelling, especially in a sprawling metropolis like London, is the infinite variety of activities available. Although humans are creatures of habit, sticking to the same watering holes and cuisineries and neighborhoods like a bunch of skittish gazelles, I try to be an exception; I'm not afraid of the possible (probable?) lions lurking at the unknown hangouts. Is the evil you know really so much better than the evil you don't know?

Even in Los Angeles, which is very much divided into villages like London (although the average Londoner's tribal association with a geographic corner of the city could well be the product of generations, whereas an Angeleno's preference for their zip code might be younger than their silicone breast implants), I was happy to drive all over the city and beyond to visit friends, exploring areas well beyond my Eastside cocoon. And now that I have changed continents, I feel even more compelled to delve into all the areas of London that have haunted my former visits and dreams and reading and movie-watching for decades.

It turns out that transportation time in London is equally as interminable as my Los Angeles journeys, although instead of being ensconced in my own little universe of tunes and air conditioning and hands-free phone calls, swearing at the traffic, I am ensconced in my own little head, squashed into a seat or clinging to a pole (no not a stripper pole), wishing for air conditioning and really wanting to offer free deodorant to a surprising number of fellow tube/bus riders. Forget the deodorant - sometimes people just need to step into a shower once in a while. On the plus side of public transport, it is cheaper than a car, one can be drunk while using it, and one can read. I do of course rate reading higher than drinking, a preference that should be shared by anyone who has ever vomited on the tube, like the two morons who desecrated my tube carriage within seconds of one another last weekend. They didn't know each other, it was simply as bad as that pie-eating contest scene out of "Stand By Me".

Regardless of vomiting passengers, the transportation system in London is a marvel and the four directions of the city are mine for the conquering. I have managed to live in North, South, East and West London so far (Central is a bit pricey for living if excellent for going out) and am managing to run as late as I did in Los Angeles for the majority of social events, although the Tube timings are slightly more predictable than traffic timings. However, planning an outing with inflexible arrival hours (concerts, plays, sporting events etc) is tricky for the chronologically-challenged. Like me. Especially during the Olympics, which brings me to the title of this post.

I am not much for sports or extreme nationalism, therefore the Olympics didn't pique my interest as much as it might have. First of all, people keep asking me who I would cheer for: Britain or the US? I am an expat, but not a proper expat since I feel an equal loyalty to my former home (the US) as I do to my current home and the country of my ancestors (the UK). Luckily the chants for both countries were comprised of three easy syllables, so I could clap along with either "U-S-A!" or "Team-G-B!" and not feel too traitorous. And when Britain and the US competed? Easy choice - I supported the winner like any good fair-weather fan.

Despite my non-engagement with the Olympics, an obligation to history stirred within me: I wondered if this might be my only time to live in a city hosting the Olympics and therefore I should make an attempt to see a live event. When tickets fell into my lap (metaphorically - I still had to pay for them) to see the Womens' Boxing Quarterfinals, I decided that for the price of an excellent meal out, I should avail myself of the chance to see the first women to box in the Olympics (Womens' Boxing being a new sport for 2012). Of course many of the women I watched were seasoned competitors on the Boxing circuit, fledgeling Olympians but not fledgeling fighters. Would "Million Dollar Baby" have been even more poignant if a gold medal had been at stake?

Since my knowledge of Womens' Boxing was limited to vague remembrances of Clint Eastwood's excellent film (and the hilarious parody of it on the American wince-fest sitcom, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), I was not very prepared for what I watched. Having no idea how the scoring worked and hoping for some Mike Tyson-style antics or Gladiator-ish brutality, I admitted my ignorance to the sweet-looking boys to my left.

"D'ya think anyone will get their ears chomped on? Or knocked out? How does the scoring work?" I asked the kids, who looked to be early 20's.
So early 20's that my female friend then asked them, "Shouldn't you be in school?"

They looked more flummoxed by her question than by my bloodlust, so I explained that she meant "university" when she said "school". Actually I know she meant "highschool" but I didn't want to spend the next three hours next to offended boys who might get extra-intoxicated to prove a point. They kindly explained to us that Womens' Boxing is more about speed and agility and I am disappointed to report that not one chick got knocked out. However, it was a privilege to see tough women pummeling each other and really inspiring to remember that they all began boxing because they loved the sport and had a talent for it, never dreaming they would one day become Olympians. It was also gratifying to watch both of my countries kicking ass.

In contrast to the afternoon of blood sport, I had been offered free tickets to a concert that very night, one of the many Proms held at the Royal Albert Hall, and without being able to bask in the pheromones of conquest floating around the Excel Centre in East London, my friend and I rushed to South Kensington to attend Leonard Bernstein's "Mass" performed by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales (and various other Welsh musicians and choirs, with a few American friends-of-my-friend thrown in for an extra-killer rhythm section).

Despite what many athletes and musicians (especially classical musicians) might think, the two seemingly-disparate groups have a lot in common. There is a reason it was trendy to read "The Inner Game of Tennis" at my music conservatory: many of the same psychic tricks are employed to succeed in sports as well as music, not to mention the similar years of discipline and sacrifice. While no one got knocked out during Bernstein's Mass either (much to my chagrin), I was as appreciative of the talent onstage as I had been of the lady boxers only hours before. In a very different way of course, especially considering I am a professional musician myself. As a strange aside, I have actually boxed for exercise. With gloves and tying my hands and everything. But only with a bag, not a human.

I performed at the Royal Albert Hall myself recently, but it was my first concert there as an audience member, and it was also my first Proms concert. Being unfamiliar with the Mass, I was hoping it might be the stylistic cousin to Bernstein's lovely Violin Concerto of sorts, titled "Serenade" and based on Plato's Symposium. What I got was far from the Serenade and much closer to "West Side Story"; the Mass is a 1971 work of protest against Vietnam and the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King, among other complexities. It's considered a Classical-Rock fusion, although I would call it more Blues and Doo-wop than rock. Maybe it's a generational thing, it's not like I was even close to being alive when Bernstein wrote it. But I'm not going to review the piece or the concert; I'll leave that to the professional eloquence of actual music critics.

Suffice it to say, that at the finish of an intense day of historical sporting events and my usual quotient of culture-vulturism, my faith in London was renewed: I could zip from beyond the East End to a posh South-West address with ease and in a relatively timely fashion, availing myself of opposite and yet similar shows. The boxers made me want to hit the gym and the musicians made me want to practice something new, maybe learn Bernstein's Serenade. The Excel Centre gave me a new landmark in the vast untamed regions of East London and in South Kensington, I was introduced to yet another tasty tapas restaurant by my friend's friend's friend. This is city-dwelling, and one of numerous reasons I can only see myself in a place with more than 7 million other residents. And on the way home in the tube, not one person vomited or needed a shower. Perfection.

Thank you Mark Twain...

Welcome aboard the maiden voyage of my blog, A Musician Abroad. For those of you familiar with the magnificent American author and humorist, Mark Twain, I acknowledge my appropriation and tweaking of one of his book titles for my own title. For those of you not yet acquainted with "The Innocents Abroad", I recommend it as a classic in expatriate travelogues.

My purloined title is (mostly) where the Mark Twain comparisons end, although I would be honored to emulate his erudition, wit and talents. I too am American, and although I am also a British citizen and currently dwelling in the glorious mess that is London, I will be using American spellings. Apologies to my British compatriots reading this and wincing at the lack of "our" and zealous use of "z", but as the possible champion of the 5th Grade Spelling Bee (I remember being near triumph and then alas my memory draws a blank - I may have won, I may have lost, but at least I know I can spell in the good ol' US of A), it's best I stick with the spellings I learned as a child.

This is not a David-Copperfield-style bio (the Dickensian hero, not the *ahem* magician). I will not bore readers with less-than-fascinating childish tales which led me to this blog, spelling bee reminiscences aside. Suffice it to say that as a career artist, the love I possess for my chosen field (music: I'm a professional violinist) is equalled by my love for literature. Due to the vagaries of fortune in the music industry, both in Hollywood where I lived for 12 years and now in London, I am not forced to work as often as I should and there is only so much time one can spend perfecting one's violin technique, sunbathing (not often applicable in London, to my everlasting regret) and meeting for lunch/coffee/drinks/nefarious activities/yoga (do you like how I stuck the really healthy thing at the end?) or however else our waking hours are filled. Therefore I read. A lot. I always have been a voracious reader, and in an interview I gave to the local paper at the age of 7 (I know I promised not to refer to my childhood but this is embarrassingly funny) after winning a National Writing Competition for the second time, I told the reporter, "Books are my friends." Luckily for my parents, I did not turn out to be an anti-social psychopath and in fact became an alarmingly (for them) extroverted teenager, thanks to my time in the trenches of Classical Music Summer Festivals. Believe it or not.

After a lifetime of mooning over the words and tales of British authors as varied as Evelyn Waugh, Iris Murdoch, Tolkein, Dickens, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Anthony Burgess, Martin Amis and Graham Greene, I decided to take my British citizenship (hats off to my mother's birthplace) and move to London, where I knew that a career in music was just as feasible as it is in Los Angeles. Although I am miffed to discover that 21st-century London does not really resemble the books I adore (I was hoping for post-WWI decadence), it is still inspiring and tantalizing and a better permanent fit for me than Paris was 13 years ago, when I followed in the footsteps of some of my American literary heroes (I haven't forgotten the gems of my mother country, thank you very much) like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway and ran off to improve my French and escape the confines of music conservatory; I am happy to report that I have felt pleasantly unconfined ever since.

I have just completed my first novel (there's that lovely access to free time again - being a musician has so many hidden perks) and while I am beginning to work on my second novel (why not?), it occurred to me that I had more to write about than my fictional characters allow. Hence this blog, which one could think of as a mental smorgasbord that I share with my family, friends, and the curious unknown. As a professional musician who has intimately dissected the nature of another art form besides music, I hope I am uniquely positioned to entertain with language as well. But ultimately I am entertaining myself, which is the foundation of any creative pursuit.

Hence I greet you, dear reader (are you dear? not sure of that yet). Perhaps...Respected Reader: I greet you. If you seek the musings of an American Anglophile, somewhat nomadic violinist for pop/classical/film recordings and performances, literary connoisseur and novelist, then you have found "A Musician Abroad".

Copyright © 2016 Melissa Reiner, All rights reserved. Portrait photos courtesy Tim SwiftDaniella Hovsepian. All other material copyright of their respective owners.