an interview with Timothy Long Concert Pianist

By Steve Elm



Tim Long was given a toy piano when he was three. He played it so much that he wore it out. By the age of five he was playing a real piano. At ten years old he was working on the saxophone and the flute. The clarinet arrived when he was twelve, then the oboe, trumpet, euphonium, piccolo, marimba and the violin - by the time he was sixteen. "Oh yeah", Tim recalls "I also played a little bit of tuba, too."

Timothy Long (Creek/Choctaw) is a consummate musician. He is a concert pianist, performing throughout the country and abroad, both as a soloist and with such companies as the Beethoven Society Orchestra of Washington DC, the Lawton Philharmonic, The Sociedad Filarmonica de Conciertos Orchestra of Mexico City and the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra, among others. He made his conducting debut in Tahlequah, Oklahoma with the 1995 premiere of the musical drama Mountain Windsong by Linder Chlarson and Robert Conley, and has since conducted at the Aspen Music Festival, Yale Opera, and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. He is presently assistant conductor at Brooklyn Philharmonic at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). He has also worked as an opera coach with the Boston Lyric Opera, The Juilliard School and Long Beach Opera, among others. Finally, Tim is currently on the faculties of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Aspen Music Festival and School, and the Fondazione William Walton Master Classes on the southern Italian island of Ischia.

Tim is in his early thirties. How did he get this far in so little time?

Thinking back, Tim realizes "I actually learned how to read music before I could read (words)." Born in Holdenville, Oklahoma, Tim grew up with classical music. " It came from my mother. My mother had a really tough life. She spent much of her childhood in an orphanage, and later on was quarantined (with TB) for five years in a hospital. Now, in the hospital everyone listened to country music. For some reason she started listening to classical music - mostly Beethoven. Later on, after she was married, she would do her housecleaning to Beethoven symphonies and concertos. Ever since I was a little kid I was hearing this music."

Tim began piano lessons at age five. His first teacher was a tenth grader at the local high school - the lessons were arranged by his mother, who happened to be a secretary at the school. Around the same time his older sister Lisa began to play. Both children were encouraged by their parents "My parents are really great. They are smart, good people - not judgmental."

His father Fred ( Creek), and mother Stella ( Choctaw), wanted to ensure that Tim and his sister would feel comfortable wherever they were. "On one Sunday we would go the Salt Creek Indian Methodist Church, or we'd go to Thlopthlocco Indian Church. The next Sunday we would go to the white Methodist church. They never forced us to believe in a certain thing or way. They have an undying belief in the way things are. They always let my sister and I make our own decisions and our own mistakes."

The security instilled in Tim by his parents shows itself in both his confidence, and in his intelligence. He has the type of eyes that seem to be watching you, figuring you out. When first speaking with him it's obvious that his mind is racing,
cross referencing, deciphering the questions asked, and he's almost tentative at the beginning. It's as if he's reading a musical score for the first time. Soon, he has assessed the situation, knows the music, and the words and stories come racing. He is witty, irreverent, and I spent most of our meeting laughing.

On his sister: "When I was nine or ten Lisa was playing flute. I would hear her play, and I'd want to learn those pieces. So, when she'd leave the house I would sneak into her room, steal her flute and play it. Then, I'd hear her coming in the house and I'd have to scramble and take it apart and get back in her room before she came in. Then she'd find my spit in her flute and she'd get mad. She was mad at me a lot."

On practicing: "When I was in the seventh grade I began to practice with a well known teacher in Oklahoma City. She was mean, but good. I had no discipline at all. I was playing football at the time - I was fat and fast - and I'd show up to piano practice with bruises. She wasn't sure what to think...I had to learn a lot of technique - stuff to set your body up to play pieces. They were called technical variants. I hated it. It was almost like learning how to be a gymnast. It was like finger torture."

On the rigors of rehearsal: "Listen, I'm lazier than any of you. I'd rather be lying on my ass watching tv and eating Cheetos. That's why I want to work quickly and efficiently and with discipline."

I asked Tim if he felt anyone could play an instrument. "Anybody, with discipline, can play - to a certain extent, but you've got to be prepared. My piano teacher in Oklahoma City, Ernestine Scott, taught me that. I had to be prepared and ready every week. Discipline is everything."

When I say to Tim that he must have a special musical gift, he smiles, screws up his face, thinks about it for a few moments, and replies "You know, I think it's more that this music was never foreign to me. It was always there."

Tim continued his musical education at Oklahoma City University, and later at Eastman School of Music. His career has led him on many different musical paths, bringing him to New York City, where he now resides. As we were saying our good-byes I asked Tim when he made the decision to become a musician. Was it when he was in seventh grade? Was it when he was in college? Or when he was playing that toy piano?

"It was never even a question to me. It was never a decision. I never thought 'I'll be a musician'. It was just there, like the sky was blue. It was just there."

Timothy Long will be conducting the Stravinsky opera The Rake's Progress at Rice University in Houston, February and March 2000. He will also be in recital in Oklahoma City on April 9, 2000, as part of the Chamber Music Oklahoma Series. He returns to the Aspen Music Festival in the summer.