It's Good Friday.
It bothered me all day that today was Good Friday, and people took off work and bought little chocolate rabbits and plastic grass to celebrate the upcoming holiday. My culture seems a little removed from the true purpose of Easter. No, actually the concept is now quite offensive, and Americans have done a fine job of creating their own agenda for the holiday, hiding the gravity of the cross somewhere along with the eggs. I confess, I myself avoid thinking too deeply of crucifiction; it's such an emotionally heavy burden, and who wants to feel heavy these days?
Back in the studio, I ran into the d minor chaconne, and there I stayed, savoring each chord and letting the feeling sink into my soul. If anything could ever perfectly musically describe death and transfiguration, this was it. Such beauty, such torment, what passion and hope! I wonder if people were to embrace such a concept, would they not feel a little less like a hollow egg?
I'm looking forward to the first signs of spring, the new green pushing out of the earth and the return of the loons to the lake. It's still a bit early to start looking--the ice isn't close to going out--but I caught a whiff of spring this evening, and I'm hopeful.
The day she brought home her new bichon frieze puppy, Taffy, everyone downstairs knew. She howled and howled, which we excused as part of puppy hood, until three months elapsed and every time the owner left the house we were notified by an all-out tantrum, complete with thuds, scrapes, and ripping sounds as she found her way into the kitchen cupboards and ate all the low-carb granola bars and sugar-free wafers. We actually hoped it would die, and when the secretary came down asking for peroxide(to induce vomiting) because her puppy had eaten her diabetic medicine--I secretly wished it wouldn't work. But we found a way to get along, Taffy and I, and when she got out of control, I would reach inside the pantry for the broom and bang on the ceiling under her kennel. She always hushed with nary a peep. I suspect she thought the Devil himself was poking with his pitchfork. If you look up while inside our pantry, you will see holes.
When the secretary's son, also our good friend, died in a plane accident in August, we would hear his yellow lab, Cody, howling in loneliness above my studio... but only during violin lessons. I tried to convince the kids that they weren't the cause, but perhaps it was appropriate that Cody could have some mournful wails from the violin to accompany his lowly state.
I think about my upstairs neighbor often, as she progresses through the stages of grief above in solitude. Sometimes, when I think she might be listening, I play some slow Bach or Celtic music. I haven't lost someone close, so I never know what to say, but for some reason, I know what to play.
The sounds that we trade back and forth through the ceiling have become routine over the two winters I've lived in this house. The pipes run at regular intervals, and the walls shudder with the slam of the door at about the same times each day. So I was surprised when one evening I heard music filter through the ceiling in reply to my own. It has been so long since she's played her flute, I forgot she was a flautist. It was pleasant for a change, listening to the muted tones as I typed, and my home felt a bit homier.
Tonight, as I was putting the rosin on my bow, I heard her again, so I paused and went to the phone. I heard her phone rumble three times and her footsteps across the ceiling as she went to answer. I told her we should work out a duet, perhaps a Telemann Canon or something. She talked about her upcoming performance at church and the loss of her ambature. I wanted to make sure she knew how much I appreciated her music and tried to encourage her to keep practicing, since it's something she loves. How often does she do something she loves?
A few weeks ago, I volunteered to participate in a workshop/master class that they were providing, and I had no idea what to expect. The last thing I could imagine was playing a Bach prelude or Vivaldi and letting them critique me in front of an audience. These men are jazz musicians, and it seemed an unlikely and unfavorable scenario, the four of them ganging up on a local no-name. In the next scenario, I envisioned a poor attempt at improvisation under eight scrutinizing eyes and a highly entertained audience. Either way, I was doomed. Regardless of my fate, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for possible enrichment of this caliber.
As the date drew near, I grew pensive and anxious. I agreed to play through my piece for a local conference held at our retreat center, and the notes mirrored my feeble heart. The director approached me after my performance with admonition: “You wouldn’t care so much if you realized how seldom others actually care.” The words stung a bit, but I found them to be truthful. So I applied it. Making it a point not to care anymore, I busied myself and went shopping, dressed myself up, and spent some time at the coffee shop before the class today, speaking of anything but music.
The moment I entered the classroom where the workshop was to be held, I breathed a sigh of relief. Rather than solo performances, they had arranged the participants in a quartet of sorts, and we were sight-reading a simple jazz arrangement called “Stolen Moments”. I looked it over and instantly knew it as something I had played on keyboard in my high school jazz band. I relaxed and began taking in the chords we were creating. Ah, jazz. I forgot how much I enjoyed the backbeat in music, the involvement of my whole body in the feel of the groove. This was fun! I looked further down the page and saw twelve bars with chords, marked “Solo”. Oh…
In high school, what could be more difficult to a self-conscious teenager than being regularly thrown in the psychological spotlight for a solo during the twelve bar blues? I always dreaded the moment when those bare segments came along and all ears were on me to fill the gap with something original. The very idea of exposing myself! To those kids? I usually made it through one or two notes and then floundered there as I waited for the remaining eleven bars to elapse in slow motion.
Today would be different; I wasn’t going to care anymore. I listened to the others, watching and learning and soaking up the moment. The quartet didn’t have an intimidating bone amongst them, and together they wove a web of security, so that everyone could explore their ideas. We talked about the feel of the rhythms, the layering of effects, the imitation of brass, percussion and piano with our stringed voices. Then the leader, David Balakrishnan, built up our palette with the notes that would color our solo creation. We played call and response with them, went up and down the scale with them, and even took a moment for simultaneous improvisation with them just to test-drive our newfound self-expression without anyone else listening. We were all set up to succeed! One by one, we took a solo. My turn came. I remembered high school, and how shackled I was by everyone’s opinion of me and whether they would approve of a wrong note or two. Not today; I don’t care! The notes finally came out as a declaration of my triumph over silence. For twelve whole bars, I spoke my uncensored mind, and it was fantastic. Heart radiant, face beaming, I thanked them graciously for their time afterward and floated out of the classroom.
The concert tonight was brilliant. They proved themselves every bit as inspiring as they were fifteen years ago when I first discovered them. Crunchy chords, deeply rhythmic bass lines, and that cellist--he personified his Zen-like smile in his wild abandonment with his instrument. Watching unfettered music-making gives me such a high. My face is still flushed from the experience!
As I’m sitting here with my autographed copy of Turtle Island String Quartet’s latest CD, I’m thinking it’s too bad they had to come to Soldotna in March, the worst time of year to see Alaska. I hope they include us in future orbits, perhaps making a revisit some August, after the tourists leave and the berries ripen. Instead, their host took them sightseeing at the town dump to see the home of the world’s largest congregation of bald eagles. I sure hope they brought their cameras.
Lying in bed, I verbalized the last thoughts of the day as George drifted off. I hold a good deal of anger and dissatisfaction, more or less at everything in general, and when the day is over, I think about the things I wish I hadn't said or done and wish the next day would be better.
I dreamed I was forced to trade instruments in pit orchestra. I played the piano and was supposed to lead everyone else, but I hadn't a clue when I was supposed to begin. A significant person was there whom I wanted desperately to impress. I played, hoping to be noticed, but all I did was make an embarrassment of myself. At the same time, I was not noticed.
I dreamed I passed by a room in a school and overheard the cadenza of Viotti's 22nd being played... by a first grade boy. He sat on the floor, slumped down, with an unconcerned countenance, absentmindedly playing every note perfectly. But he was a parrot; he had no clue what the music meant and repeated phrases ad nauseum.
I dreamed I ran into an old elementary school teacher who attacked me with condescending questions about my life: "You're not playing with that lousy sounding orchestra; it's such a joke!" I felt it necessary to defend myself and our little group.
The sunlight peeks through the curtains, and I don't know where I am. My heavy heart doesn't know the difference between a dream and reality, and I find it difficult to extract myself from the covers.
It is one thing to be driven to excel and improve myself, be it in skill or actions. It is quite another thing to be perpetually dissatisfied with myself. This mentality seeps into all aspects of living. It affects the way I relate to people, the way I see myself in the mirror, the amount of confidence I have, and my ability to love others.
Unless I can accept my mistakes, I'm not going to be comfortable performing for people. And it's funny--when I care the least about the mistakes is exactly when I make the least.
I made the mistake of assuming I actually knew something about the determining factors that qualify something as being "good". Art, for instance, was an area in which I believed myself to have discriminating taste. Music is also an area in which I feel confident in my ability to hear all the sounds coming from my instrument and tell if they are acceptable or not. But what if... what if I'm actually clueless? So many people think they have good taste when they are actually blind to the fact that their work is amateur. So, when I went to pick up my rejected color pencil from the local juried art show, was it simply bitterness that prompted me to huddle with the other rejected artists at the reception and voice my complaints? I worry that this was the case, but a deeper instinct tells me that this was simply not true. Besides, after a glass of reception wine, everything makes much more sense.
Okay, so the sheep I drew using a golden spiral constructed with the Fibonacci sequence didn't go over. However, my ravens and Mount Redoubt hung on the wall, next to a Jackson Pollock wanna-be that took Honorable Mention. My drawing looked naked there under the light, and I could see places where it fell slightly short of what I had intended. But I also remember the day that I had finished it, sitting on the porch in the late afternoon glare. It was one of those rare warm Alaskan summer days, and the scent of warm leaves and earth drifted on the breeze. I had been struggling with the drawing for a couple of weeks, but under the influence of that day, and the good techno music drumming in my headphones, I hit a groove. The pencils rhythmically and effortlessly etched under the bright sunlight, creating their own palette of muted blues and greys. For a brief space of time, I had it. It’s the zone that musicians refer to when they are in a state beyond concentration and labor, when the instrument becomes an extension of themselves, and the music identifies their souls. What I had when I was finished held a glimpse of the true self that I was intended to be. I was happy with it--and that’s saying something. It makes me shudder to think about it, what kind of people we would all be if we weren’t shackled by these imperfections. I’m sad that such times of uninhibited expression in my life are so rare.
They hired a judge from New York and made a point to punctuate it on the cover of the shoddy, last-minute program. I took a few more moments to honestly evaluate the juror’s picks before calling it a night. His choices consisted of the following: a hateful looking horse with little depth or attention to detail, an equally shabby painting of a distressed old woman with heavy purple wrinkles, the previously mentioned Pollock rip-off, some metallic, clunky sculptures, and a digital cartoon creation with a heavy political agenda. I’m beginning to understand the mind of the judge. He’s just not from here. He doesn’t understand. We are not on the same page, he and I. Anyone who would live in New York City would not relate to a girl who purposely chose to live far away from there.
There at the art reception, I did happen to meet one artist--a young man whose work seems to hold great potential--who took fourth place for a large, painting with loose brushstrokes, called “Rhythm and Blues.” His eyes were bright and clear. I’m glad he was chosen for something at least; his work was the best in the room. I hope he continues to go at it, and not let the Man get him down. The best artists draw from that spot deep within that cannot be influenced or changed by others; they are unafraid to represent themselves, point blank, in the face of critical and unsympathetic eyes. It is wise to believe that the opinions of critics are often afflicted, biased, and clouded.
Take any opinion with a grain of salt, that’s my advice for the day.
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