Q&A with Nina Kennedy, author of Practicing for Love: A Memoir
Q: Why did you write this book?
NK: I wanted to document the history of my parents’ lives as it ties in with the history of Fisk University - where they spent their careers as faculty members - and the impact of this history on my professional life. Both of them set out to be classical pianists, and both of them felt that American racism kept them from realizing their dreams. They were determined that I would have the concert career that they were denied.
Q: How did racism hamper them?
NK: A story that first comes to mind is one that my mother told, a story of being engaged by a conductor to appear as piano soloist with her hometown orchestra. That conductor died suddenly and was replaced by a racist who would not honor her contract. My father said she never recovered from this. The innumerable heartbreaks resulted in her suffering from depression and alcoholism. My story incorporates being the adult child of an alcoholic, as well as being the daughter of a woman who was not capable of mothering.
Q: Has your own career been hampered by racism?
NK: Of course. And by sexism as well. I have not been allowed to participate in competitions - with a master's degree from Juilliard, no less. I’ve seen my white male colleagues win all kinds of prizes and contracts that they didn’t deserve. Watching this blatant lack of fairness was heartbreaking, but it didn’t stop me from doing what I set out to do.
Q: How has being female affected your career?
NK: Well, I never flirted with men to get a contract. I never knew how. I felt as long as I was playing well and getting standing ovations, the bigger contracts would come. Eventually I learned that some soloists (both female and male) were exchanging sexual favors for contracts. I share some of that gossip in the book.
Q: Is this only a professional memoir?
NK: No. My love life is inextricably linked with my professional life. I wrote about coming out of the closet and claiming my identity as a woman who loves women. I wanted to share how my budding sexuality helped develop my understanding of the tensions, build-ups, and climaxes that classical music is famous for.