Over the past ten years I've lived in several different apartments and rented single rooms, all around Minnesota. It's always been a concern, when I move to a new place, that my neighbors will complain about my practicing the french horn. Luckily this has never happened — partly, I'm sure, because I don't practice too early in the morning or too late at night. So I can testify that apartment living is compatible with being a musician. If buying a house were never in the cards, I would still be able to play and listen to music in my living space with a fair amount of freedom.
That said, one of the reasons I'm looking forward to becoming a first-time homeowner this summer is that it will enrich my musical life in a few small but meaningful ways. Many people dream of the painting and decorating they will do in a new home, or the gardens they'll plant, or buying furniture. I think about those things, too — the garden part, mainly — but I've also spent time over the past few months dreaming about the musical events that will occur in our home.
Hosting small concerts and recitals is a big one. Growing up in Bismarck, North Dakota, I attended occasional Thursday Music Club concerts with my mother at people's homes, and I love the idea of being able to host similar performances myself. We won't have a great deal of space indoors for this sort of thing, but the living room will work for a handful of guests and a soloist, duet, or trio. The backyard will be even better: I'm picturing strings of lights, lawn chairs, and music floating into the evening air. My ideal is to invite friends, family, and colleagues over a couple of times a summer for a backyard concert, perhaps featuring my brass trio alongside another local group.
Another vision I have involving music and the backyard is simply lying down on the grass and listening to my iPod on a warm, sunny morning or afternoon. You may wonder why this simple activity is the stuff of daydreams, but most people who have lived in an apartment will agree, I think, that it's not so simple if you don't have a patch of yard to yourself. I would feel very weird listening to music while lying on the narrow, exposed strip of grass between my current apartment building and its parking lot. This isn't to say it can't be done — and going to a park can be a great alternative for apartment dwellers — but it will just be a more pleasant, private experience in my own backyard.
Then, of course, there's practicing horn and piano whenever I want. As mentioned above, I haven't been too cramped in this regard in apartments and shared houses — but every once in a while, it would be convenient or fun to be able to play at 7 a.m. or 11 at night, and that tends to create conflict if you share walls with neighbors. I'll also feel more comfortable playing my horn at maximum volume at any time of day (provided the windows are shut, since neighbors will still be a factor). Right now in our apartment, it's hard to let myself play a true triple forte even if it's the middle of the day, because the people above us might be napping or reading or just not enthused about hearing Tchaikovsky or Strauss at full blast.
Owning a home will bring difficulties that renters don't have to deal with, difficulties I've happily avoided as a longtime renter myself. Still, I feel privileged to be entering a different stage of life in terms of where I dwell, and I feel excited for the musical opportunities that await there.
Gwendolyn Hoberg is a classical musician and the owner of the editing and writing business Content & Contour. She lives in Moorhead, plays with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, and writes the Little Mouse fitness blog. She is also a co-author of The Walk Across North Dakota.
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