Q&A with Nina Kennedy, author of Practicing for Love: A Memoir
Q: You’re a successful classical musician. What made you decide to write a memoir?
NK: Well, I’ve been documenting my experiences in a diary for many years. Since the day it was discovered I was a child prodigy, I’ve been pretty non-verbal. In fact, as I was zoned by law to attend a segregated public school, I had to speak black slang during the day, and was forced by my college professor parents to speak the King’s English at home. So I pretty much kept my mouth shut. When I started looking at all of the writings I had collected over the years, I realized I had a lot to say. The book is really a collection of my writings from many diaries. Piecing it together was a real challenge.
Q: What can music students learn from this book?
NK: In the first part there are many details about the audition process for conservatories. When I auditioned at the Curtis Institute of Music, they had 3 openings in the piano department, and 72 pianists showed up to audition. My program stood out, and they accepted me. I also auditioned at Juilliard for the Master’s program, and won a full scholarship. But there are also stories about how racism kept me from competing in some competitions, and I wanted people to know that such things exist.
It is also very important to me that young girls learn how to cope with the inappropriate pressure put on them by some conductors and concert agents. Many young men have been pressured as well, and I was a witness to it.
Q: What was the hardest part to write?
NK: My time at Curtis was the most difficult to write about, because my teacher carried a deep-seated racism, I’m afraid. She was quite elderly, and very verbally abusive. At the time, I didn’t know how to handle it, and blamed myself for her displeasure. It was a very painful time, and hard to re-live while writing about it.
Q: Talk about your transition from girlhood to womanhood.
NK: It wasn’t easy, especially because my parents demanded that I focus on my career and not let a husband or children get in the way. But eventually my desires could no longer be ignored. Soon the floodgates opened, and my unmet need for love felt like a bottomless pit. Ergo the title. I know men can tell tales of romantic exploits and be thought of as romantic heroes. Women, on the other hand, run the risk of being thought of as whores and sluts. It’s a delicate balance. But I’m very honest about my romantic life in the book.