After years of hiding a dirty habit, I've decided to speak out: a pianist's confession.
Disclaimer: This article was intended in good humour and to draw attention to an issue faced by many musicians. Simon is not giving up his performing career as stated. –Limelight
I’ve been living a lie.
For that I’m sorry. I’m sorry to budding young pianists who looked up to me as a role model. I’m sorry to all my audiences. I’m sorry to piano teachers everywhere. I’m sorry to Lane Cove Music Club who booked me when I was 9 in the hope I would turn into something special. I’m sorry to the late Fred Blanks for writing a mean article about him in this very magazine. He was right all along. I am sorry to the charity of which I am patron, the MicroLoan Foundation, and especially its beneficiaries: the toiling women of Malawi who must resort to cruel ingenuity to provide a plate of rice for their kids, to whom I am also sorry (even though, strictly speaking, they did come out on top as a result of my recitals). I don’t have any children yet, but I’m pre-emptively sorry to them as well. Mostly, I’m sorry to God.
For the last decade, I’ve doped. From Sydney Opera House to Campsie RSL, my performing career has been an exercise in subterfuge. Peruse my CV; let your eyes rest on a competition victory. I doped for that too. My childhood competitors probably remember an awkward, gangly-eyed boy with scant hair and a preternaturally calm demeanour. I was high even then. The plastic trophies I captured during Eisteddfod runs in the 90s were pawned to Happy Hockers in exchange for a fix. During the filming of Shine in which I was the hand double for the young David, I was embroiled in my own private psychodrama (currently being negotiated for the big screen, Charlie Sheen set to star). My recordings, noted for their slow tempi, should have had another name on the liner notes. Its scientific name is Metropolol, but is most commonly known by its generic name: Beta Blockers.
Beta Blockers – the prescription drug for stagefright. Even the name, with its double consonant ostinato, wets my lips and hungers my soul. It is the capsule that daren’t speak its name. I challenge you, moral luminaries, would you really have had the inner strength to resist salvation in a bottle?
A whole apparatus of skulduggery exists in this country, a network extending to the highest levels of arts administration and discount pharmacies. I made the decision to speak out about this counter-culture in the hope that I can be the catalyst for change. I wasn’t the first to take Beta Blockers but I also didn’t try to stem the flow of it. I should have done more, I realise that now. When you’re consistently performing at such a high level and under extraordinary pressure, you can convince yourself of such outlandish things, for instance that audiences prefer performances unmarred by crying and loss of bowel control. I will forever be haunted by the line I crossed that first night.
It took years to get this bad, but now doping is part of classical music and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. In an industry with too few jobs for too many contenders, musicians need an ‘edge’. It’s understandable that some would be lured in by a drug that allows you to breeze through octave glissandi in the Waldstein or double stops in Vieuxtemps.
Even though I am one, I don’t want to be seen as a hero – merely a man who wanted to be a pianist but lost himself along the way. This announcement is going to be gut-wrenching for those closest to me, but no more so than for my family who will bear the brunt of my duplicity for years to come. For the moral luminaries out there baying for my blood – am I not a man too? If you prick me do I not bleed? I expect the establishment’s response will be swift and permanent. As of this article’s publishing, I am persona non grata in everywhere but my own lounge room. All this from the very powerbrokers who always made a point of looking the other way. Who are the real villains here?
Even though my career is in the doghouse, I do not want to bow out of public life without trying to make something positive out of all this. I submit that nothing less than a full scale, zero tolerance crackdown is needed. Heads will need to roll.
- Compulsory stagefright checks at all stage doors throughout Australia.
- An inquiry headed up by Justice George Palmer to examine and weed out collusive behaviour by members of the classical music hierarchy.
- A media campaign titled ‘Beat da Blocker,’ figure-headed by Australian Rugby League legend Blocker, designed to rehabilitate classical music in the public’s eyes and simultaneously open it up to younger audiences.
- A televised interview between me and Oprah which will lend this cause the profile it needs in order to truly permeate the public consciousness. With the funds I have illicitly gained through doping, I will give each live audience member a house.
In the meantime, I hereby announce my retirement from public life. I intend to spend more time with my close family and pursue my other great passion: cycling.
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