Character Arcs

I attended a concert last night at Kodak Hall, not as a music critic, but as one who loves the piano and classical music. Last night’s performance was part of my Rochester Philharmonic subscription, but it was special to me because it featured a Mozart concerto performed by a pianist I’ve been aware of for most of his distinguished career.

Quick backstory so you know how this ties into “character arcs”: in 1967 I attended a concert in Kilbourn Hall (also at the Eastman Theatre complex) featuring a recital by Barry Snyder, a young pianist, recipient of multiple honors, including the Van Cliburn competition. I don’t recall the pieces he performed, but his playing blew us all away– brilliant and forceful. His appearance impressed me equally. I remember him walking onto the stage– rangy and leaning slightly forward as if he and the piano exerted a magnetic force on one another. He folded his lanky frame onto the bench, raised his arms, positioned his hands over the keys and struck the first chord. For all the world, he looked like a benign vulture and Linus rolled into one. Words like Intense, Determined, Brilliant, Gifted, Whole-life-in-front-of-him fit the picture.

I watched his performance, mesmerized and torn, a screwed up college student who loved the piano and knew I had to give it up (even then my arthritis had damaged tendons enough that I could no longer play chords). I had no idea what the rest of my life would hold. My own bewilderment and fear ruled me for years after that.

Fast forward forty-six years.

Barry Snyder performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 with the RPO last night, and the picture was different. Brilliant performance, as before. Thundering applause and standing ovation. Snatches of conversation at intermission: Laid-back, Fluid, Mind-boggling. I compared my mental pictures of the same performer then and now and saw a man who today is in the fullness of a long, distinguished career as educator, performer, and collaborator. And, yes, laid back, with softer edges and an aura of  fulfillment.

As for me, today I am an author, soon to retire from a career as educator and technologist, with a lifetime of stories and insights and trials and tribulations and growth to draw on in my writings. As an author, I can remember and observe a brilliant man at two very-far-apart points in his life, and I can imagine many paths or “character arcs” that represent his journey from Intense to Laid-back, from Gifted to Mind-boggling, from Determined to Fulfilled. Since I am not a biographer, any path I imagine is fiction, potentially fascinating and probably far from the truth.

I really only know my own path, my character arc, from bewildered, screwed up, fearful freshman to author. The character arcs I write in my books are infused with my own development and with what I know of the development of so many people I have met on the journey. And not one of those fictitious character arcs is my own or that of any one person I have known. Character arcs are endlessly fascinating to me.

I’d love to hear which authors you regards as masters of the Character Arc in fiction or in biography!