A theme is emerging and weaving throughout both my professional and personal endeavors lately. It has something to do with savoring silence and practicing saying no.
I keep getting this image of an arm pushing away piles of matter. It is not necessarily junk or dirt or garbage or anything bad. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t know because I can’t see what it is because there is just so much. Too much. Some is real, physical stuff, and some is symbolic of the matter bombarding my personal airwaves.
Basically, it is a massive collection of options. So, so, many options. It is a blessing indeed to be able to have so many opportunities in front of us here in the land of the free to decide amongst a plethora of activities to do and items to buy and words to say and statuses to set and tweets to retweet and clothes to wear and blogs to read.
This image keeps flashing through my mind in such a way that I feel this very real sense of relief as the masses of matter are shoved aside, revealing space and openness. It’s not just the nice, clean tidyness that my mind has been dwelling on, but moreso on the action of the arm. It moved and chose to push away many things for the sake of the few, and for the sake of a sense of peace. Actively, aggressively, creating an environment of less. To not get taken over by the inestimable number of options takes a deliberate choice.
As I meander along my path of pursuing a peaceful home environment I think that I attempt to create order much in the manner of one of my favorite childhood games – Boggle! In boggle-opolis a bunch of disordered objects, when shaken agressively, eventually line up in an orderly fashion. I will leave the full analogy up to your own personal creativity. Suffice it to say that, in the real world, there are usually way too many letter blocks in that container and no matter how hard you shake and jostle, they simply are not going to fit, look nice, or be practical.
When I sit at the piano, I’ve got quite a lot of options. 88 keys x 10 fingers….well, that’s a little oversimplified, but there are a lot variables. In order to cope with the many options for improvising or embellishing, we professionals do this thing called, in Italian, “ettinga tucksa ina a utra.” Oh, my bad, that was pig-latin. Translation: getting stuck in a rut. It goes something like this: Melody with the right hand pinky, chords with the other fingers of the right hand or filled in by the left hand between jumps down to play the root of the chord. Even sticking with this simple, somewhat minimilistic approach, I hit plenty of notes that don’t “belong.” It’s rather easy to gloss over it at the piano. Most people won’t notice the wrong notes because there are plenty of great ones that are louder.
And then I started taking organ lessons. I hope someone out there is chuckling knowingly.
The techniques above? – scrap ’em. Chords played that way on the organ would be grossly mushy, and the bass notes are the business of the feet now, not the left hand. Now I need to be able to play melody alone with the right hand, basic chords alone with the left hand, and a musical bass line with my feet. So begins the task of relearning and retraining all my appendages.
On the piano, one makes a note louder by depressing the key with more weight, or force. The organ doesn’t work that way. All of the notes have the same volume. Sure each of the manuals (keyboards) can have a different sound, but when it comes to hitting wrong notes, there is no masking them. On the organ, in order to accent or emphasize a note, you release the previous key early enough to provide a sufficient amount of space before the note to be emphasized. This tiny preceeding break highlights and distiguishes the note that is especially important at that moment.
This experience is not solely reflected in my delivery at the organ. On the piano, my awareness has now been peeked. Why do I distribute the chords like that anyway? I’d like to say that it is because those are the notes that I’m choosing because they sound good and serve the purposes of whatever qualities I am seeking for the music. Partly, sure, that’s true; but in large part, I’m not really consciously choosing the notes. They are choosing me. Not in some cutesy artsy sort of way, but in more of that “I’m totally stuck in a rut and hardly even know how to think through what I’m doing before I do it” sort of way.
My piano rut and manner of filling space is partly due to a discomfort with silence and an insecurity in my identity as a good musician, since, after all, it is so very impressive to be able to play lots of notes in a short space of time. The more the merrier, right? As a child I often heard someone say, “If a lot is good, then too much is perfect.” Yuck. First, here’s my Intro to Logic textbook. Second, ‘a lot’ is very often not good. As Sabrina says, “More isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s just more.”
Isn’t this, in a way, how our days go too? We don’t wake up each day saying, “I’m going to check email for an hour, and puruse facebook throughout the day for a total of 3 hours, and click on 14 of the ads or notices that pop up while I’m looking at the screen. I’m also going to be sure to give my full attention to all the commercials, at least 15 minutes worth all together. Oh, and I definitely want to get carried away by a household task in each room that was different than the activity I set out to do.” Funny? Slightly. Frustrating? For sure. The options – the endless options and opportunities. No matter how loudly I lecture myself about getting my life and priorities in order, I just can’t shake everything into the right slot. The opportunities are jumping at me like popcorn kernels in a hot kettle. The all are really very yummy kernels, and, in the language of my three-year-old, “They all are saying, ‘Eat me! Eat me! Eat me!'”
I don’t want to just let all the activities of life choose me. I don’t want to just let all the chords and keys on the piano choose me. Most of us don’t have a magical arm that comes out of nowhere to sweep away all the less-important things at any given time, (this is good, because that would be super creepy) but I have been grateful for how that image has sparked in me a motivation to actively push away the options that clutter my mind, to think about what I’m doing, and to make space for what is important.
Doing one thing in a environment well-suited to doing that one thing is one step in the direction of beauty. A beat of silence emphasizes the sound of the music that follows. A rest before that final chord isn’t a waste of time during which one could be playing so many notes. It is a carving out of space in which something beautiful can happen.
There are many good tasks to be done. There are many fine rhythms to be performed. But not all by me and not all right now.