It had been a bumpy couple of weeks with my guitar. That makes it sound a bit like it was the guitar’s fault. Not so much. To be honest, the guitar was the only thing constant, the only thing playing fair. Life gets… crazy and it’s during the crazy times you wish you could just pick up an instrument, in my case the guitar, and play away the bills, the stress, and all the uninitiated change. That wish sadly, cannot be put into practice effectively after just three lesson. Somehow Twinkle Twinkle doesn’t cut the mustard when some serious blues are what the doctor ordered. But that didn’t stop me from trying. Oh yes, there were attempts. I’m not entirely sure if my practicing was at the center of my neighbors decision to move or if it was just the rent increase, but if I was the cause, I can’t say I blame them.
Music is similar to life in many ways. I discovered that you have good days and bad when trying to play the same damn notes. What you can do easily, nimbly, and sweetly one minute, can be botched and almost unrecognizable the next. Fingers unaccustomed to music making are fickle and clumsy and each time I picked up my guitar I never knew what the outcome was going to be. I made a pact though to always end on a positive… note. So as I entered the door to my fourth lesson the last memory me or my fingers had were playing the song all the way through, slowly yet, correctly. Each note in its proper place.
After some friendly chit-chat I demonstrated the fruits of two weeks worth of labor to my ever-patient guitaru. I had practiced, but there was not perfect. I feared the honeymoon was over. I feared that the tedium of my required repetition was to get the best of me. But, then I was instructed to play it again and to my utter delight, what happened next was in essence a romantic comedy climax. An unexpected twist that is wholly worth the waiting for. A genuine spark. As I struck my first note I was accompanied by others as played by my instructor. This coupling. This stealthy duet. It came without warning and the result was yet another change in my perspective. Another insight into music that through all my experiences to date, I had not thought of and never yet felt.
The transition from one who listens to and consumes music as an audience member to a participatory maker of music, actively engaged in its creation is profound, and for me it is probably the most difficult skill I will hope to gain any sort of relative success with. I am comfortable listening. I am a consummate appreciator. My passivity is never more exemplary than when observing others create what I haven’t. I have no doubt in my mind that I belong at the South Bay Guitar Society concerts and recitals as a spectator. My aspirations to be a musician are sincere but, when actually in the presence of layered chords and unexpected melody, I revert back to what I know and I react as a recipient of the musical gift not its guide, creator or host.
Those first notes played together rendered me quite literally motionless. I made an audible gasp and consequently my teacher had to chuckle as a result. Like some spell mastered by Harry Potter himself, I froze at this new submersion into the fierce complexity that is the musician squared. In that moment I wanted desperately to revert to my old habits and just listen to the music. My previous joy in completing a simple solo was overwhelmingly trumped by the familiar joy of being an audience member. How are you to enjoy listening to the music when you must concentrate on playing it? And, as if that wasn’t in and of itself enough to ponder, how do you in addition to your own technique synchronize with another musician. Or multiple musicians at that. And that, I think is when my brain may have infact imploded.
An onslaught of new revelations flooded my reawakened consciousness. Can the technique of playing ever become so subconscious that it is automatic and if it is subconscious how is it that you can consciously listen at the same time. How are you able to enjoy it. Or do you? Does a musician have the ability to splice their consciousness? And yet, you don’t stop listening to the music as that is inevitably required to play it. So then do you go to it instead of it coming to you? Does a musician spiritually and physically become a part of the music? As musician are you simultaneously mother, father and child? Do you create, birth and become it? Perhaps is it not a splitting of consciousness that musicians master but a merging of them? A culmination of past lives, memories and new interpretations. A past, present and future all exhibited in parallel. Kaboom.
Magic indeed, and there I was completely bewitched. Suffice to say my epiphany served my synapses far greater than it did my lesson and our technical progress was halted for the duration. I tried in earnest to simultaneously play and listen, but I was unable to maintain any semblance of meter or proficiency when each note that I expected rang out far richer and more layered than my own skill could have produced, or my imagination could even have dreamt. Stuck in my head and not in my heart, or that other ethereal place musician go to craft, my lesson concluded in a philosophical daze. More thought on the matter, like practice is indeed required before I can hope to progress. This time a much longer break between meetings with the master, an indefinite length of time as life continues to interfere, but until then… it is advisable that you keep your g-string on.