Coffee! Now!

Beth Levin

[December 2012.]

The hours at the piano with Beethoven’s Opp. 109, 110 and 111 sonatas could never have been spent without coffee on a nearby ledge. At a rehearsal for the Schumann concerto, I actually called the conductor to ask if he’d mind buying a container en route.

The imbibing isn’t the point. It’s the sight of the vessel that bestirs the worker within. Going over the third movement three times in a row? A walk in the park! — piece of cake! — provided there’s coffee somewhere in the hall.

Hotel coffee can feel so luxurious. I’m a sucker for room service and may order a pot as an accessory. When not spilled on a Henle edition, the silver service with its delicate sugar cubes heightens the pleasure of studying the music.

I recall walking to a hall in Manhattan and stopping for a coffee. I’d be playing Beethoven’s Opp. 109 to 111 for the first time and was feeling low and alone. Every footstep weighed a ton. I suspect that no few fellow performers experience discomfiting states before their recitals.

Coffee consoles.

A word of caution, however. Backstage coffee can tamper with one’s sanity. With all that adrenalin you don’t need a further boost. Along a similar line, I have had some truly hideous vending-machine coffee with no less appalling powdered cream because I required its backstage companionship, even if the miserable container remained largely unsipped.

When I delivered a Beethoven-tour performance to the recording engineer, he offered coffee. (The disc will be issued in the spring of 2013.) Listening produced elation and, at moments, something less. Coffee, that reliable eye opener, would not permit blurred thought or feeling.

Coffee unites practice through rehearsal to performance. It promises lucidity. It delivers the imagination to unexplored regions. And certainly warrants a poem:

When I die wrap me in a coffee sac
Until then immerse me in coffee beans, in a shop, say,
at one with the aroma that floats home with me
in a brown paper bag. (The coffee’s bagged. I’m walking.)
Let me sip a cup the color of camel’s hair,
O lovely warming liquid

But maybe you should stop me from bathing in coffee,
washing my hair, tanning my skin….

But do, please, awaken at 3:00 a.m. and brew coffee! Now!
Watch it elate me, accelerate my heart, stock my head with fresh ideas….

O golden brew, O burnt offering, may the Coffee Goddess bless us all
and Coffee River never run dry

[More Beth Levin]