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Concert Pianist Sara Davis Buechner Writes Her Story for the New York Times
LISTEN TO SARA'S MUSIC ON THIS LINK! http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/04/booming/growing-acceptance-for-the-transgendered.html
Katherine Streeter By SARA DAVIS BUECHNER Published: February 3, 2013 49 Comments
Ten summers ago, on an early evening stroll in Bangkok, I met a baby elephant. The animal’s owner was walking him past the open-air food stalls of one of the city night markets where, for the price of five Thai baht, one could purchase a handful of bamboo stalks and feed it to the little fellow. Concentrating on the broken sidewalk under my feet, and wishing not to trip, I hadn’t noticed the elephant until I nearly walked smack into him, eyeball to eyeball. Needless to say, it was a startling encounter. In my beloved Bronx, I had bumped into plenty of interesting creatures but no elephants. Being in Bangkok for extraordinary reasons, and in need of good luck, I fished into my purse and found a coin. I patted the head of the elephant for good measure as he crunched up his vegetarian treat.
Two mornings later I was wheeled in for the surgery I had needed since childhood. It was a fearful experience being so far from the familiar comforts of my Grand Concourse apartment. There was no money in my bank for an American surgeon (who would have charged six times as much). Nor did I have medical insurance — not that it would have made any difference. In 2002, no American insurer would approve payment for transgender surgery.
As David Buechner, born in the northwest suburbs of Baltimore in 1959, I became an internationally known concert pianist. But from the time I was a child, I understood that I was meant to be Sara. In those days, there was no information nor discussion of anything outside the heterosexual template. Nor were there role models for transgender children.
But in 1975, when I was a teenager, Richard Raskind — formerly the Yale men’s tennis captain and a lieutenant commander in the Navy — had surgery to become Renée Richards. It was front-page news in The Baltimore Sun.For the first time, I understood that I was not alone. But I said nothing; in those days I would have been taken to a psychiatric ward to be straightened out.
In an earlier time I might have remained hidden. But I am fortunate to have grown up as part of a generation in which so many — black people, women, gays — fought and gained so much. Their bravery and integrity inspired me.
I wanted my own wholeness, too. My Thai surgeon turned out to be a butcher and disfigured me so badly I wound up spending a couple of extra weeks in the Bangkok hospital with swelling and bleeding, doped up on morphine.
When I returned to New York, I consulted a surgeon from one of the city’s leading hospitals. After examining what had been done to me, he said he’d like to do corrective surgery. “I like a good challenge,” he cheerfully assured me. It was not the first time that I experienced the sensation that we transgendered were experimental fodder.
In the 1960s, war protesters moved to Canada to live openly. I did the same in 2003.
On several fronts, Canada was far ahead of the United States. Gay marriage was legalized by Canada in 2005. And thanks to its universal medical care I was able have corrective surgery at a superb clinic in Montreal.
In the United States, once I came out as Sara, I couldn’t get bookings with the top orchestras anymore, nor would any university employ me.
In Canada, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver hired me for a piano professorship in 2003, and in 2008 I earned tenure. After moving, I was able to marry the Japanese woman who’d been my longtime partner at a wedding before 125 family and friends.
I see signs of progress in the United States; some American insurers have recently begun to cover transgender surgery. There is less need for an exotic flight to a dangerous operating room abroad. We have emerged in numbers at last, and are no longer invisible, discardable or silent. We clamor for our civil rights and are gaining respect and understanding. My generation has done its reading, listening, learning. Times are changing. In the recent election, for the first time voters in two states approved the right to gay marriage.
In 2003 I hadn’t played as a soloist with an American orchestra in nearly five years. But when I crossed the border to Canada, I found plenty of orchestras and recital presenters who were happy to book me. The success of my performing career in Canada has helped me rebuild a reputation back home. I’ve played twice now with the San Francisco Symphony, and also with the orchestras of Buffalo, Dayton, Seattle and others. I am confident I will once again play with the elite groups in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York, earning the same good reviews that David Buechner once did. A new generation of conductors, composers, chamber players and music executives has come of age, and they don’t ignore my agent’s calls as their older colleagues once did.
SARA DAVIS BUECHNER "Buechner has it all - intelligence, integrity and all-encompassing technical prowess" New Yorker
"Buechner's performance had a beauty that might have taken even Mozart's breath away" Washington Post
"This performance had everything --style, technique, taste and originality" New York Newsday
"SARA DAVIS BUECHNER - "It doesn't get any better" Florida Review
To find out more about booking Sara call Carrie Feiner Concert Management at 914/725-0200 or write to FeinerEnt@gmail.com www.saradavisbuechner.com
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