by Susan Schanerman
Brought up on jazz and a diehard lover of jazz, Gershwin judged himself (as he imagined others judged him) as a lesser composer because he did not write in the standard classical style of the Great Masters.
So, he decided to go to Paris with the intention of studying with the great Maurice Ravel. Ravel asked a simple question in response to Gershwin’s request, “Would you rather be a 2nd rate Ravel or a 1st rate Gershwin?”
For some reason, I was compelled to see if I could find any additional information online. Here’s the story I found on the Carnegie Hall website.
On March 7, 1928 Gershwin met the celebrated composer Maurice Ravel in New York. The occasion was a party held for Ravel’s 53rd birthday. The following night would be Ravel's one-and-only performance at Carnegie Hall.
The 29 year-old Gershwin did an impromptu performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" and “The Man I Love” which thoroughly impressed Ravel. Apparently, Ravel so deeply respected Gershwin’s natural melodic gift, that he refused Gershwin’s request for composition lessons. It’s reported that he replied, “It is better to write good Gershwin than bad Ravel, which is what would happen if you worked with me."
After hearing the radio story, I was struck by the idea that even someone like George Gershwin, who had already reached such a great level of recognition and accomplishment, still had concerns over the opinions of others and doubts about his own unique genius.
I guess part of the challenge in being true to our Selves, honoring the leadings of our hearts, celebrating our own individuality . . . in our art, as well as our lives, is having the strength and tenacity to stand firm despite the turbulent winds of popular opinion.