Most of us have no idea what it’s like to hang out deep in the ocean. And why would we? It’s a museum down there for sure, a gallery of life forms inhabiting a part of the planet where the origins of life evolved and climbed out of as soon as they figured out there was another way. But for some, it is a calling, a calling back to the source that speaks to a part of the self, that deep primordial place that lives inside of all of us, the paleomammalian cortex to be exact, which houses our emotional core, memory, and instincts that bind us to survival—and most importantly to our physical world, the planet where we live.
So if you happen to play music, and the violin to be specific, spending time with the fish can be an introspective sport. A lot of self-reflection can take place when you are all alone under the sea with only your breath to focus on. And just like ballet is good training for football players, clearing your mind and senses in an environment of total peace can be beneficial to a musician’s ability to listen, which is the majority of what playing music is all about.
Of course, you don’t have to take up diving to experience an alternate state of being, but if you happen to live by the Adriatic Sea, it’s a pretty obvious way to go.
Let’s see if we can get some vicarious sense of life from the perceptions of Daniele Orlando, a native of Pescara, Italy, who can be frequently found among fish and fiddlers…
Kathy Geisler: What is your current job in the field of classical music?
Daniele Orlando: Solo violinist, chamber musician, leader of I Solisti Aquilani, freelance musician, and professor of violin at the Conservatorio di Monopoli.
Kathy: What were some of your early music lessons like?
Daniele: My first lessons were when I was six years old. They took place every 15 days. And since they were so infrequent they would last over three hours! They were endless! My mom, who had to attend the whole lesson, was amazed at how a six year old boy could last so long. In fact, I don’t know how either … but I was somehow able to resist all distractions and maintain my concentration!
Kathy: What is one of your favorite places and why?
Daniele: I am a great free-diving enthusiast and for sure my favorite place is the bottom of the sea. I really like to put my hands on the sand of the seabed, to touch mother earth, and observe it for the brief amount of time I am there.
It is where I can really be alone with myself and really listen to everything inside. I can evaluate how stressed I am at that moment, how tired I am and how afraid I am. In fact, when you practice free-diving you need to learn how to save oxygen in every possible way. It is imperative to learn the economy of gestures in order not to burn oxygen. But there is nothing that eats more oxygen than fear. And so for me free-diving is a thermometer for my mind.
Kathy: What is one of your favorite pieces and do you have a favorite performer or experience of it?
Daniele: It’s not just a favorite piece, but one that has connected me to something very personal in myself. It was a recording of Henryk Szeryng playing the Schumann Concerto that I experienced for the first time when I was 14 years old.
Listening to the work, in my room at night, hearing the first movement, I realized my dilemma: what is my life really worth? How can I know if my life is worthwhile? It was a very intense moment, an unanswered question for me. I was very frightened actually. As a 14 year old boy, wondering these things. But inside of that work, that performance, it gave me some hope that there would be something for me to truly value of myself in this life, a true purpose and meaning.
And as a violinist, as a musician, I continue to search for the real answers, the real value of my life.
Kathy: Is there an artist no longer living who somehow made an impression on you?
Daniele: My teacher Denes Szigmondy, who was a very special person indeed. He was steeped in his Hungarian heritage. I was lucky enough to get to know him thoroughly since I stayed in his house for long periods during the time I was studying with him. His home was located on Lake Stanberg, outside of Munich, Germany.
Although he was already 80 years old when I was his pupil, Denes had a unique vitality and strength of mind that I did not often encounter. One thing that stood out was his extraordinary daily rituals. For instance, the way he approached breakfast, which he assembled every single morning — and the preparation of it took a long time: there was every possible kind of flavor on the table, and they were very contrasting flavors! Frozen champagne and hot coffee, smoked herring and raw pepper, all kinds of Hungarian salami alongside exotic fruits of all kinds, and on and on. It was like this every single day! For me, as an Italian, I was only used to the usual cornetto and cappuccino, it was an unthinkable show! I was also struck by the explanation of the necessity for this: it was essential for him to remember as much as possible how much variety there was in the world! And it was important to rediscover every single day both how to live as a musician and how to live as a person. It was essential. And with this concept, like many others, I fell in love with this philosophy.
Today, 25 years later, it seems to be practically impossible for anyone to find the time to prepare such a breakfast every single day! But we should definitely find the time to rediscover, marvel and be deeply moved every day by the amazing wealth that our earth offers us. The hope is that in this way we can learn how to defend the biodiversity of our planet and the amazing cultural diversity among people.
Kathy: What is one thing you think will be different about classical music 100 years from now?
Daniele: In my opinion, there will be the realization that having an understanding of classical music gives us the power to improve our emotional well-being, and therefore our lives. With that in mind, there are two possibilities of what will be true in the future:
1) In the event that humanity expresses its worst self: the consumption of classical music will become more and more elitist (belonging mostly to the powerful, who will want to keep it all to themselves!)
2) In the event that humanity expresses its best self: the consumption of classical music will become more and more main stream.
Kathy: What is something about your work that you think most people have no idea about?
Daniele: It is difficult for most people to imagine anything about my work, at least as I understand it so far! One would have to spend a month with a musician to realize what level of madness he can reach! My wife always says so!
Kathy: Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today?
Daniele: In general, if I do what I do it is thanks to the good fortune of having met many people who believed in what I did. Without them, nothing would have been possible. And it’s good to remind myself of that fact every day. It is really important for extremely individualistic people like me. Nothing would have been possible without the other people in my life who supported me.
As for my path, I started playing the violin because the kindergarten I attended was taken on a guided tour of the local music conservatory. I heard a violinist and …. I was blown away!
Kathy: Is there anything else you would like to say about yourself, your work, or classical music?
Daniele: Whoever does what I do studies many hours a day, sacrificing most of their life in the name of music. It is very important to honor what you do with study and great dedication. It is imperative to honor the music. But first and foremost you have to honor life by always respecting your own mind, your body, and others.
This article originally appeared in Medium, published in Humans of Classical Music.