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The World Is Never Quiet.

As a kid, I was unduly concerned with how radio stations get their sound to your radio. It seemed vaguely creepy – all that chatter and music flinging through the air – bouncing off and zipping right through me. Be still for a moment, and contemplate this: right now there are dozens or even hundreds of radio station signals passing through your body. Creepy, huh? I didn’t like it then, and though I’m a bit calmer about it now, I still feel restless about it sometimes.

Radio signals move through the air as vibrations. Ones that are beyond our limited ability to perceive. There’s an old joke about dental fillings picking up radio waves, but why can’t it be like that – why can’t we perceive the full range of vibrations all around us? If we could, the world would probably seem substantially different to us. I’m pretty sure we’re better off without that ability, though wouldn’t it be interesting? We have the limited, luxurious ability to perceive tones and vibrations in a specific range. And our abilities manifest in a variety of helpful and enjoyable ways.

As an amateur gym rat, I prefer to exercise using a tempo-based music track. I tune out as much as I can: the TV, the happy chatter and other distractions. I lower my cap over my brow, turn up the sound and repeat, repeat, repeat to the beat. It’s always worked for me, especially when I’m feeling less than prime. I easily slip into sync with the repetitive sounds and once on board, I’m a happy musical passenger. I’ve read that many pro athletes prefer no outside rhythm for their workouts. My understanding is that they are focused on the functions of their body, the flow of energy, the tempos and cadences of their form. Perhaps their ability to perceive inner rhythms and vibrations is more highly developed; perhaps it’s an innate gift. Maybe I’ll get there someday, maybe not. I know that my rhythms are there, it’s just that I can’t perceive them very well.
I think that music is not more noise in a noisy world. Rather, it’s that we can’t help but express what we sense. The talent of being a musician may lie in the ability to sense and make sense of the rhythms around them, as athletes can sense and listen to the rhythms within their own bodies.

I love the quote from Albert Camus, “The world is never quiet, even its silence eternally resounds with the same notes, in vibrations which escape our ears.” We all have access to the same vibrations. Our job and indeed our joy, is to respect and develop our senses to better perceive that which is around us.

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Play more, practice less, find happiness.

I spent a lot of my youth practicing just enough to get by. I played oboe and I progressed fast without a lot of effort. I liked that – it gave me time to do many important things, like hanging around with my friends.

Even with all that free time, I got really, really good really, really fast. Maybe too fast. There was little challenge. No struggle to get better. It just came to me. Senior year in High School I was looking at a fat envelope from my first choice school. A scholarship to music conservatory. Let’s just say the transition from High School to College was not an easy one.

In the big leagues, no effort equals no results. If you knew me in those early college years, you’d know to look for me in the school practice rooms. Turns out I wasn’t a prodigy. It would have been a lot easier that way. I was scared. I had bitten off a lot, and was choking on it – I could feel the dream of playing in a major orchestra slipping away before I even got a chance to mess up an audition.

So I practiced. And practiced and practiced and practiced. It worked just a little at first. Not fast enough to keep up, but enough to keep me going. Weeks went by.  I began to find hard to play musical passages easier. More practice: new sounds came under my control. More and more practice: I could play in tune, with nice tone, for much longer. Something happened. It started feeling less like practicing and more like playing. Less like work and more like fun.  That subtle wink when it shifted from practice to play is hidden somewhere in my memory and I can’t recall the point exactly, much as I try. If you’re in the middle of it, right where you belong, it passes by in a flash, and the moment shifts to the next and the next. It’s beautiful.

My Dad once asked me “what’s the most important thing in life” and I was all over the road with my answer. Success? Friendship? Love? Patience? Achievement?  He shook his head, smiled, and said: “Happiness.”

I was finding happiness in the results of my struggles back then. And as I gain experience, I can tell you that I also find it in the struggle itself.

There is no reason to practice if you don’t want to get better.  And I think we do, all, truly want to get better – be better. There is no way to get truly, deeply better without effort. As a musician, it’s the effort that comes from you, alone in a practice room.

I wasn’t sure my Dad had it right at the time. I believe him now. Practice as though your happiness depends upon it. The rest will come.