Frank Perri is a keyboardist and arranger with a range of live performance, recording and arranging credits which reads like a who’s who of ‘been there and done it!’ If we mention that Frank has arranged for and led the Duke Ellington Orchestra, has guest conducted the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, is musical director of ‘Break The Floor Productions’, one of the world’s preeminent dance entertainment companies, AND has appeared in the US TV show “Pan Am” on ABC Television, you can see we’re not exaggerating.
Frank’s father still asks, “When is he giving up this music garbage and getting a real job?”
So there I was, eating dinner one night with my long time piano teacher who I had not seen for few years. Of course being very familiar with my ability and the pace at which I learn, he was amused to see me perform above what he had expected from me, even after the years of not seeing me. Extrapolating for the years we hadn’t been in contact, for once I had come out ahead.
With a mouth half full of salmon, he managed to say, “Hey, you were burning tonight.” I was slightly taken aback by his genuine compliment. Or maybe it was just receiving a compliment from a teacher who, during our many years of lessons was not in the manner of giving out compliments freely to me, especially when I would spend a good portion of the lesson trying to come up with a great excuse why, after three weeks, I would still be struggling with the same diminished scale.
Caught slightly off guard, I responded “You really think so?” “Of course” he said, without missing a beat. “You’ve really excelled since I last saw you. What’s your secret?” I asked him, “You want the truth?” and without giving him time to answer stated, “I just stopped giving a damn.”
He sat back in his chair with that smile of pride a teacher always has when a student finally gets it, even if it took that student 13 years. “It’s a beautiful thing, ain’t it?” he rhetorically asked. “It definitely is.” I agreed, finally feeling like someone who was allowed to be part of the club. He finally offered, “You know what? You should write a book and call it that.” So here I am. Not quite a book, but one does have to start somewhere.
I distinctly remember when it happened. I assume it can happen at any time for each person, but for me it was my 35th birthday. I don’t even know how it happened. I went to bed at the age of 34, my mind laden with the common burdens and worries of any person who has chosen the path of a career in the arts or music and I woke up at the age of 35 and realized I could care less about what I was worrying about. All the fears that had gripped me for years were suddenly gone. The uncertainties that had plagued me for many sleepless nights were now no more than interesting landmarks, similar to a strange pile of rocks curiously arranged on the side of the road. I just came to the realization that what I had to offer was what I had to offer; no more, no less. Either you liked it or you didn’t, but there wasn’t much I could do about it past that. Of course I could still bend, but in the past I’d bend until I would break. Now I felt like I’d bend until I couldn’t anymore and then tell you to try someone else. This was huge! This was amazing! It really couldn’t be this simple, could it?
It was a paradigm shift for me, as big as the one Copernicus introduced to the world when he deftly checked and most certainly mated Ptolemy in one fell swoop with his book, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium”, or for those of us rusty on our Latin, “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres” in which he dictated that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around, which was most certainly heady stuff in a time when some people were still coming to grips with the Earth being round. For me, it was similar in that I had realized that everything didn’t revolve around me, but rather we all revolved around, um, something, and that was just the way it was and I couldn’t change it.
But a funny thing happened. I was all set with my newly found power, ready to tell people, “Sorry. Can’t do that.” when asked to do impossible tasks. I was excited to display my newly drawn lines in the sand. Strangely no one was pushing me to that point anymore. My new ability to not care gave me a certain confidence that caused people to stop questioning what I was doing and asking for more. I started to present things with the attitude of, “This is what it is, and it’s the best you’re getting from me.” And people were fine with it. Surely this was a cruel joke! People pushing and asking for more and more is what caused me to develop this ability and now that I had, no one pushed or asked anymore. Outsmarted again by the human psyche! Or was there more to it?