When it’s time to throw in the towel

This is Julian Lloyd Webber.
This is Julian Lloyd Webber.

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber is retiring from the cello.

JLW is the brother of billionaire Andrew Lloyd Webber of Cats fame. His list of premieres spans 50 works and includes composers like Joaquín Rodrigo (sweet) and Phillip Glass (…). JLW also happens to be the first musician awarded a busker’s license for the London Underground, that finest of all concert halls.

Now all that is done. Webber suffered a herniated disk in his neck (posture pegs my dude!) and announced that he’s stepping away from the cello.

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First of all, I need follow JLDubs on Twitter. Second, retiring at age 63 from a pro cello career shouldn’t be sour grapes, especially considering the high-flying run he had.

Third, the music vocation is an odd and unending one. The insane and the prodigious (and the insanely prodigious) start pro careers as soon as they can stand upright. At the end of that road there’s nothing that remotely resembles a consensus retirement age. If you can play, you play. Some retire to teach (and play a little less). Only a few flame out and take their bad vibes with them.

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But how do musicians know when to throw in the towel? When is enough enough?

An old teacher of mine, Peter Howard, used to say that he would stop performing before he embarrassed himself. These things are fairly subjective but I always thought that was a sensible decision.

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We’re not talking about putting an old racehorse down here. A performer at a certain age has accrued a bundle of information: what music still works after hundreds of spins, what festivals are the best summer jump-offs, who cooks up the illest music projects, who’s kept what kind of company in off-hours,  and how to move in a room full of vultures. None of that’s easy to leave behind.

In the end you just give thanks for going great guns, for whatever length of time you got and whatever forces that let you make music for a living. Not just musicians wrestle with retirement and relevance, and at least your office had good music.

Julian Lloyd Webber is not gone and he’s not forgotten. He’s probably got some cool-ass professorship lined up, and he’ll always be able to shoot skeet on his brother’s massive estate if he gets bored. But we have to learn to pay tribute, to appreciate the “elder” (63 is not elder) statespeople among us. Because who knows when it ends?

In memoriam for JLW’s career, 1971 – 2014, and for players whose performing lives deserve a similar splash of a 40-ounce on the pavement.

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” — Yogi Berra

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