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Topics In the News
Pianist Sara Buechner Explains Why She Became a Canadian
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/05/13
Last updated on: 02/05/13
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In a New York Times story that is also a contribution to transgender autobiography, pianist Sara Buechner explains not only why she felt impelled to transition from male to female but also why she became a Canadian.

Sara Buechner is a concert pianist who teaches at the University of British Columbia and performs internationally. She was born David Buechner in 1959, educated at Julliard, and received a doctorate from the Manhattan School of Music. As David, she won a number of prizes at international piano competitions, including the 1983 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, the 1984 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, and the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition.

As David, she early mastered a large and unusually varied repertoire, including especially Gershwin, Bach, Joaquin Turina, and film composers, and performed with the world's greatest orchestras.

However, as she explains in her compelling essay in the Times, her success as an internationally known concert pianist was shadowed by the fact that "from the time I was a child, I understood that I was meant to be Sara."

As a teenager in 1975, she read of how Richard Raskind--formerly the Yale men's tennis captain and a lieutenant commander in the Navy--had surgery to become Renée Richards. "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 1998, however, she made the transition to Sara.

She underwent surgery, first in Thailand, where her surgeon was a butcher, and then in New York. After examining what had been done to her in Thailand, the New York surgeon told her that he would like to do corrective surgery. "I like a good challenge," he cheerfully assured Buechner, who adds laconically, "It was not the first time that I experienced the sensation that we transgendered were experimental fodder."

One consequence of her transition was that her career floundered. When word got out that she had become Sara, her bookings with prestigious orchestras dried up and no American university would hire her.

In 2003, however, she received an offer from the University of British Columbia and decided to move to Canada.

As Buechner writes, "In the 1960s, war protesters moved to Canada to live openly. I did the same in 2003."

In Canada not only was she able receive excellent medical care at a superb clinic, but she was also able to marry her long-time partner, a Japanese woman. In addition, her career also flourished.

"In 2003 I hadn't played as a soloist with an American orchestra in nearly five years," Buechner writes, "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."

She adds, "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."

Buechner's essay needs to be read in its entirety. In addition, the Times also presents several audio files of Buechner in performance.

In the video below, from 2009, made to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Buechner's debut on the concert stage, Sara Buechner reflects on her life.

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