“It’s a really good deal.” These words of Stephen W. Levin would change forever the fate of his second son Jonathan. He was, of course, speaking of the family’s first purchase of a musical instrument. The mighty, seven-and-a-half-octave Clavinova keyboard would adorn their basement living room later that very day. From then on, things were quickly set in motion and the young Jonathan stoically resigned himself to the lessons that would inevitably follow. To his knowledge, these sessions would rank with multiplication tables or perhaps Hooked on Phonics as some of the more odious experiences from his childhood. He was wrong however, possibly for the first time in his life. In fact, so much did he start to enjoy his musical studies that he showed, quite early on, the warning signs of the kind of obsessive/compulsive behavior which seems to characterize many pianists. His parents were unfortunately not trained to detect these symptoms and before long it was too late.
Jonathan made his solo debut at the Clayton Elementary School Auditorium, or CESA as it was never called, and performed what has been hailed to this day as the definitive interpretation of Stecher’s masterpiece, The Little Caballero. This first public appearance was yet another indication of his pianist complex, as it was both the most frightening and, at the same time, fulfilling experience of his young life. To this day he still enjoys (in a sick kind of way) putting himself through this public torment.
But Jonathan’s story is not all pain and sadness. Throughout his early studies he was afforded the opportunities of performing in many places throughout the east coast and meeting many inspiring and famous people, not the least of which was Van Cliburn on whom he made a powerfully ephemeral impression. His burgeoning career reached a crossroads however when, in his middle teens, his time was perhaps equally divided between music and basketball. It was a sad day for the NBA when he finally decided (wisely as always) that he didn’t need the fame and wealth of a basketball star but only a life full of music – a belief he stubbornly holds to this day.*
Not long after this it was time for the next step in his life, so with much trepidation he ventured across the Mason-Dixon Line and headed for big bad Manhattan - no small ordeal for someone growing up in rural North Carolina. It was there that he attended one of the country’s leading music conservatories (the name is not mentioned in order to protect the innocent).** Much to his surprise, one of his first discoveries in New York was that he was not, in fact, the only one with a pianist complex and there were others who were uniquely inhibited in this manner as well. This was one of the most important benefits of his higher education as he was able to make connections with a supportive group of similarly afflicted friends and to this day he is greatly involved as an activist to help others like himself and to raise awareness of this condition amongst the general public.
Jonathan’s recent musical shenanigans have taken him to all different parts of the US and his achievements have included what was in all possibility the Natchez, MS premiere of Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata, holding the title of first person ever to perform Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in concert dressed as a taco (not to be confused with the immortal "Taco and Fudge in De' Diner"), in addition to performances at Carnegie Hall where, continuing to be an innovator, he decided to go the extra mile and, on top of just ‘practice, practice, practice’, take the Q train to get there as well.
The Jonathan Levin Story!
*Don’t try this at home.
**The last part is ‘school of music’ and the first word rhymes with the name, Dan Patton.
Jonathan in no way holds his parents responsible for his condition and, furthermore, would like to thank them for their unwavering support and help with his treatment over the years.