Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Face the Music

The other day my friend, Paul Boynton, author of Begin with Yes (buy it here), posed a question that has had me ruminating ever since. The question that he posted on his Facebook page was, "Why is Life like learning to play an instrument?" Of course, being a musician, I love any analogy that likens life to music.

Learning to play an instrument is a series of small achievements with enormous breakthroughs thrown in every now and then. It is, as another friend says, about progress, not perfection. The more you learn, the more you know, the more you learn. And the more you want to. Like life, it can be an equally frustrating and rewarding process. It can be discordantly beautiful - there is pleasure with the pain.

Just like the inhabitants of life, everyone has a different technique, everyone has different skill levels. There is always someone who is better at it, and there is always someone who is worse at it. The key, as my piano teacher once said, is learning to play for your own enjoyment and satisfaction. Enthusiasm and heart can win over even the most resistant ear.

Not everyone can be a virtuoso, but there's no such thing (really) as a solo. Even the background noise - the hum of the refrigerator, the traffic out on the street, the rattle of the blinds in the window, the rustle and coughs of the audience - all of that plays a supporting back beat. In your life, there are people who will be part of your duet, just as there are people who will play a quiet, nearly inaudible harmony. There are no inconsequential notes or players. There will be melodies that, on occasion, fall flat, just as there will be melodies that rise as if to make the mountains taller.

Mistakes will be made. Not everyone will like your style. Some criticism will hurt more than it should. Some praise will feel false. Some days you'll wonder why you bother. Some days you'll hardly be able to wait to begin. Some days will be filled with going over and over and over the same two stanzas because you just can't seem to get the damned thing right. Other days will be filled with page turning and brilliant restlessness. Some days you'll toss the sheet music aside in defeat, stomp away and say, "I'm never playing again!" Other days, you'll close your eyes, play for the sake of playing, and embrace the music in a moment of absolute ecstasy.

In the process of learning to play, you will discover things about yourself. You will find that at least trying, even when you know it's going to be difficult, is better than resignation. You will learn the meaning of nuance. You will find that the more adept you become, the more enjoyable it is to listen to the music of others. You will find that silence is never silent, understanding the music that is heard only during the rest between the notes. You will learn to find joy in small pleasures - sometimes the sweetest tunes are the simple ones.

Ultimately, you'll understand that it's all about practicing. It's all about getting in there and giving it your best.

You play because it's there

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