Finding the time to unwind is a puzzle, between demanding work hours and a long list of interests. One of my things-to-do today was to get a picture describing “warmth” for the Dogwood Photo Challenge. The result is on this post. The enticing hot bath never got used; I went on to do other things that were on my list. I got in a workout and practiced some music and watched a bit of television. The music is part of a busy spring of music. In fact, only four days after I am scheduled for a carcinoma removal, my band is playing two gigs in three days. I’ll need some energy to heal and do well at those gigs. And here’s my first opportunity for learning in that adventure; I need to be more aware of my ability to step back from all the busy-ness, to put my work down from time-to-time, get good sleep, unwind, and be mindful.
A little piece of wisdom I’ve learned from performing is that, once all the rehearsals are done and you walk out on stage, all that is really left to do is to have fun. Tonight I was part of a local Christmas concert; I sang in some choral pieces, played accompaniment on others and my band played a few tunes ourselves. We realized, rather late, that one of those tunes had a really suitable part for children’s choir. So, yesterday at rehearsal, we taught the kids the part. One run through was all we had time for. Tonight, they climbed up on stage and they showed everybody in that church just how much fun you can have with a performance. It was sincere, infectious, and joyous and I am so grateful to have been a part of it.
I’m working late tonight running some data conversions and while I’m waiting I’m working on editing some practice choral tracks. The choir I’m singing with is doing There is Peace; the SATB adult part of the choir joins up with the children’s choir a practice or two before the community concert. I sat in on last weekend’s children’s choir to record it and sang my bass part along with them and a few of the altos and sopranos who have kids in the choir. I’m sitting here tonight worrying some tricky bits in this data conversion and growling when the data export didn’t work. While waiting for some processing to finish, I loaded this track to edit and took a listen and felt my spirits lift far above the noise of a bit of tricky data. I’ve really been quite fortunate to have this experience with the choir.
Now I’ve identified this problem of failure (which is totally normal and can be handled quite well in small doses) and its cumulative affect I’m noticing it everywhere. I went to a small concert tonight, saw a great act. These things usually inspire me and I typically resist that “I can never be good enough” feeling; I can be inspired to improve to what I can be even if I never get to the level of a gifted performer. And yet, tonight, I’m feeling utterly flat. I recognize, intellectually, what is going on (at least, I think I do) but my emotional train has left the station leaving the logical part standing forlorn at the platform. I’m thinking, despite myself, that there is a way through. With a little care and good emotional hygiene I’ll find it.
I’m exhausted and really need some sleep so this might not be very coherent. That’s okay though because the exhaustion was well earned. We went to a delightful wedding/handfasting yesterday and then my band played at the reception. Then we joined a few late stragglers, specifically my coworkers and boss (who is a really good singer and guitar player), around a campfire trading songs until three in the morning. When we got back to the lake this afternoon, a singer friend invited a couple of her friends over for some lake time. Turns out they were both accomplished singer song-writers. So we enjoyed an afternoon of the most amazing three part harmonies and beautiful guitar playing. I am filled with gratitude to have such amazing people wander through my life.
I’ve been struggling a bit recently to pack everything I want to do in to each day. Play a bit of music, read a book, take some pictures, find some geocaches, do some yoga, or get in to any number of other distractions. Ironically, blogging about it is one of those things too. After working an eight-plus hour day, trying to find the time to do the things I really want to do is pretty challenging. I can’t decide if I’m being overly compulsive and, in doing so, am watering down all these experiences. Maybe, being aware of my increasing age, I’m trying to make up for a lot of wasted time. I suppose as long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and getting some sort of benefit from it, I should just embrace the busy-ness. It certainly doesn’t leave much room for procrastination.
Today I’m all out of energy. It isn’t always easy to puzzle out why that is. Is it the ongoing work drama? Is it because I’m only a couple of days away from vacation and leaving loose ends lying around (I’m always afraid they’ll come back and bite me). Is it because the “up” of yesterday’s gig with my band has been met with an equivalent “down”. Or maybe it is just because the amount of energy we put out for a two hour concert, and the long drive there and back, and getting up early to work is just what it takes and one should expect to be tired. Regardless, I know I’m moving forward on the work drama, have vacation coming, and we had a load of fun last night. So maybe I’ll just try to find some satisfaction in that and head to bed.
There is a great deal of content on the web about the benefits of playing music; boosting memory skills, improving team playing, teaching discipline, etc. I was pondering these benefits as my band played its way through four gigs over this St Paddy’s weekend. I put out a load of energy in every performance (at least, if I’m doing it right) and yet I can come off stage feeling emotionally and mentally refreshed. It occurred to me that maybe there’s something underlying all those benefits. Performance is a complex thing; playing the instrument, remembering the words and arrangement, listening to tone and timing, and engaging the audience. Keeping that all working together requires being absolutely in the moment. There is a conscious practice of observing yourself drifting away and intentionally pulling your attention back to the music. The times that the music is at its absolute best are when you are fully there; mentally, emotionally, and physically engaged in the art and audience. That mindfulness, the being in the moment, is as good a mediation as any.
At times I wonder why I keep getting on stage and playing music. I’m a utilitarian guitar player, not a particularly talented vocalist, and neither songwriter nor gifted arranger. And yet, last night, we played the first of four St. Patrick’s gigs, and I re-discovered the magic. It wasn’t a big venue but it is cozy and we had a full crowd. We played our set and truly loved the music; not just enjoyed it but fully embraced it with our fingers, voices, and hearts. We pass that passion on to our audiences and they pass it right back to us in a beautiful symbiosis fueled by sharing music. This is why I keep doing it. It isn’t about the money, or the accolades, but about the pure joy of sending a few people home, myself included, a little happier than when we arrived.
Comparing ourselves to others is a risky place. We took in a local performance of “Once” at a local theatre last night. Musical performances always leave me somewhat conflicted. As a mostly amateur musician, I constantly measure myself against the musicianship of professionals. In one part of the story a certain individual is told that they play okay but should not sing, ever, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that might be what I look like to the rest of the world. The company in this play was filled to the brim with fantastically talented performers. While walking out, thoroughly entertained and thinking, as I always do, about where I stand with respect to music, I realized that it is a simple choice. Not quite Yoda’s black and white “Do… Or Do Not. There is no try” but a more subtle choice between inspiration and discouragement. It would be easy to go out into the night in a muddle of emotions but I realized, in one very lucid moment, that I could leave fully inspired. For that, and for the gift of music, I am very grateful.