Where Practice Makes One a Prisoner

A page from the score to Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3. IMSLP photo.

A page from the score to Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3. IMSLP photo.

As a teenage drummer, I practiced long hours in my parents’ basement, by myself and with the guys in my rock band, without ever hearing from the neighbors that Black Sabbath was ruining their otherwise peaceful lives.

After college and graduate school, when I was auditioning for various orchestras, I practiced wherever I could, including in my apartment. I was thoughtful about when I’d play through the standard orchestral excerpts, cranking away on myriad percussion instruments during “normal business hours,” not wanting to subject my neighbors to the xylophone part to Porgy and Bess any more than I wanted to be hearing it myself.

Whether it was because I was so considerate about when I made my daily racket, or because my neighbors appreciated what I was trying to accomplish and were doing their best to remain patient and polite, no one ever complained.

I never had to stop playing through the snare drum part to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 because a neighbor thought the building was under machine-gun fire.

On more than one occasion, my wife returned from work, entered the apartment quietly, waited until I was done playing whatever excerpt I was practicing, and told me that I’d “missed a note.”

So you’ll understand that I was taken aback by reports that a Spanish pianist named Laia Martínez is facing a number of years in prison for driving one of her neighbors crazy.

According to a report in today’s edition of The Irish Times, “Martínez (27) is on trial in Girona, northeastern Spain, this week for allegedly inflicting psychological torture on a former neighbour and breaking noise-pollution laws when practising the piano in her home as a student. The noise-pollution charge carries with it a possible jail term of six years, with a further 18 months for causing ‘psychological injuries.’ Ms Martínez, who is now a professional pianist, could also be banned from performing for financial reward for up to four years and face a hefty fine.”

Now, I’m obviously biased, but, in my opinion, the charges and punishment Martínez faces are ridiculous. That prosecutors in Spain are going after the young pianist the way that they are is outrageous and shameful.

One would think that Spanish law-enforcement officials have more dangerous criminals to deal with.

While I don’t know all the details of the quarrel, and while I certainly can understand how the aggrieved neighbor, Sonia Bossoms, might’ve felt like she needed a break from hours upon hours of Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff, her claims of enduring “psychological torture” strike me as histrionic, spiteful, and self-serving.

If the laws in Spain are such that Martínez’s career could be irreparably damaged as the result of the feud with Bossoms, the laws in Spain need to be changed.

David Brensilver is the editor of The Arts Paper. This is his opinion.

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