Interview With Mitzi Rapkin of Aspen Public RadioSecretary Condoleezza Rice
August 2, 2008
QUESTION: So what are you going to play today?
SECRETARY RICE: We’re playing the first movement of the Dvorak, A-major piano quintet and the second movement of the Brahms F-minor piano quintet.
QUESTION: And have you been practicing?
SECRETARY RICE: Not as much as I would like. I just came from a really long trip. I was in New Zealand and Australia and Samoa and Singapore. And during that time, I didn’t practice. But I’ve been trying to dust it off a little bit. And we’ve practiced a couple times here.
QUESTION: I read that story about you in The New York Times that you have these people over to your apartment –
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: -- and that you have this piano. So it’s – you get it in sometimes.
SECRETARY RICE: I do. I try to practice – well, catch as catch can now. When I was a little freer, I tried to practice at least an hour a day and maybe a couple hours on the weekend. And when I was doing it for real, I practiced four or five hours a day. So I miss it. I miss the practicing. I always loved to practice. That’s in some ways the fun part.
QUESTION: And does – I mean, does being back here bring any thoughts to you of, like, some alternative reality you could have lived?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, when I listen to all of these kids play, I realize I made the right choice – (laughter) – because these are extraordinary musicians. And I was a good pianist and particularly, I was a good, kind of, technical pianist. But I was not going to be great. And I think I made probably the right career choice. I’m not sure I would be back here playing on stage if I’d still been in music.
QUESTION: And what did music give you growing up, like, on a more spiritual, like, deeper level?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first, it gives you just a sense that human beings can do the most extraordinary things. You listen to this music that these composers have created, and it’s otherworldly. It’s as if they are some other species of human being.
I was in Vienna and it was the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. And I looked at a score, an original Mozart score -- not a single correction on it. He wrote it, from start to finish, without a single correction. And I thought, that has to be a brain that is just of some other order of magnitude. So I think it gives you a sense of what’s humanly possible.
It also, for me, is transporting. It takes me to a place that nothing else matters but the music at that particular time. And then, it’s a great discipline. I feel that really practicing and playing, and even performing -- it’s one of the things I worry a little bit about. I don’t think our kids do it enough anymore. When I was in school, even the public schools had instrumental bands and you played in concerts all the time, and I don’t see that very much anymore.
QUESTION: And have you been a disciplined person your whole life?
SECRETARY RICE: I was pretty disciplined because, on the one hand, I had piano, school, of course, and then I was also a figure skater for a while. So life was pretty busy and there wasn’t much quote, un-quote, “free time.” But I think that’s – sometimes that free time is a little bit overrated. If you’re doing what you love, and I loved those things – it was fun.
QUESTION: Do you see music coming back into your life when you are done with your service?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I’ll absolutely go back to playing more. Before I came to Washington in 2001, I was playing a lot. I was taking lessons again in the Stanford Piano Department, and I was performing a good bit for various events. And I really enjoyed that, and I would like to go back to playing more, sure.
QUESTION: And do you think that there’s any way – on the front page of the Aspen Daily News today they were talking about the Aspen Musical Festival’s goal of sort of using music to bring more peace in the world. Do you see a role for that?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I certainly think that when musicians are together from all over the world – it sounds a bit, maybe trite – but there is this universal language that they all speak. And I was recently in China and I was listening to these great young Chinese musicians, you know, playing Beethoven and Bach, and thinking this transcendent music across not just centuries, but across all kinds of cultures -- sure, it’s important.
QUESTION: So what’s more nerve-racking, coming up here to play on the piano or trying to create peace in the Middle East?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they both have their challenges. But let’s say it this way, I do less of this, playing on the piano. And you have to have a healthy respect for this music. You have to really concentrate because you can’t be out of the music for even a slight little bit. Something can go wrong really fast. And at least it’s not playing Mozart. A great pianist, Glenn Gould, once said: The problem with playing Mozart is it’s not a question of whether something will go wrong, it’s when. So, I hope that’s not the case tonight.
We’ll just – these are great students that I’m playing with. They’re terrific musicians. I’m looking forward to it.
QUESTION: All right. Well, good luck.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you so much for your time.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: And I hope you do well.
SECRETARY RICE: Thanks very much.
QUESTION: I hope you hit all those keys right.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Enjoy Aspen.
SECRETARY RICE: All right. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
QUESTION: Yeah, take care.
SECRETARY RICE: Bye-bye.
Released on August 4, 2008