Breaking up with TV for Beethoven

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As I child I was not a fan of classical music. NOT a fan. I would scour the library or bookstores for popular piano music to avoid playing it in lessons. My teacher did let me play (and improvise) the popular songs while my classical scores limped along until contest.

When college auditions came, I panicked. All memorized classical music?! I was forced to “get serious” about practicing and nothing was more easily accessible than Beethoven.

Beethoven’s music sounded good AND fit well under my fingers. The more I played it, the more my musical language grew to appreciate early Bach and Haydn all the way to the late great weirdness of Bartok. But Beethoven was the road in. Hours of practice culminated in a long senior recital. It was one of my personal “conquering Mount Everest” moments.

Fast forward to now. After teaching others, my own practicing had slipped into playing student repertoire and pop music for gigs. And as my oldest student started preparing for her own college juries she needed me to brush off my highest level performing skills.

I began taking piano lessons from a brilliant concert pianist. It was both horrible and amazing. My brain couldn’t quite maneuver clumsy fingers. Ouch! Ego! Ouch!

The Beethoven pieces were easier than the Liszt and Debussy assignments. But the Beethoven exposed every little technique mistake. I couldn’t blame limping technique on song difficulty, but rather the lapse in attentive practice. At the same time, I started reading classical musician biographies. These composers we deify had horribly messy lives. What separated us from them was laser-focused passion. This ability to shut out distraction and move forward even after terrible setbacks.

In this total music immersion, I felt the cobwebs shake clear from my brain. I was playing better every day.

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Which brings me to my relationship with TV. I only used to watch it sparingly, but it has crept in to claim its place as background noise during my work day.

But recently TV got weirdly boring. I just didn’t care – about who was in what movie, who won last night’s “big game”, or who was making fun of who on late night.

My brain had eaten its metaphorical junk food. But now, thanks to Beethoven, my brain was forced to run marathons. The junk food (TV) just slowed me down. After this intensely focused musical practice, I couldn’t stand the noise. My brain was hearing its own words and melodies in the silence. Silence has become valuable processing time.

I have brain space to consume OR create, not both.

So I did it! Yikes!!! I broke up with TV.

So has the break up been hard? Yes. Can we still be friends? Of course.

Sorry, TV. It’s the end of our steady relationship.

I’m leaving you for Beethoven.

Feasting on Distances

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My new normal is sitting in a waiting room at the lab draw facility surrounded by the very young and the aging. I am drawn to the older patients. They are the ones who look up from their devices and want to chat. They talk about their grandkids, “The Bachelorette”, clipping coupons, and gardens cucumbers. They seem unfazed by diagnoses and blood tests.

Luci Shaw’s wry humor and poetic finesse at 84 years young is captivating. She tells it like it is.  Her book, Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Life-Long Journey contains countless gems of wisdom. In an American culture that often views seniors as out-of-touch or problematic, Luci Shaw is evidence that not only are our best years ahead of us, but life is meant to be lived well, even to the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few insights that stood out to me above the rest:

1. No one is an unbiased reporter when it comes to a memoir. We cannot be outside of ourselves to see clearly. So we do our best to be honest about the rough parts of our lives. This is a necessary turning away from narcissism that is prevalent in  first-person writing that saturates our blogs and books.

2. We can mourn the “loosening spring” – the loss of physical abilities. As our bodies fall apart, patience develops through asking for help and having to wait. There is security in knowing who you are apart from your ability to perform.

3. We are “enough” but we don’t feel “enough”. These aging heroes often wonder out loud if they did the right things, the best things.

“Feasting on distances” means not being afraid to look towards the end of life – and to those who are nearing life’s ending. To live well today means that  we have the courage to look toward where we are going.

I would like to infect my contemporaries, both young and old, with an openness that frees us to talk about unknowns , muscled by faith, with joy as fluid in me as the blood in my veins. Feasting on distances. Yes.

- Luci Shaw

(Pictures – Lechworth State Park, NY)

Explore

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This summer I am going down a new path. Just as I am opening windows and cleaning house, I am mentally due for the same. A needed breath of fresh air.

I recently realized that the ONLY stuff I had been tuning into was written by authors close to my age. Instead, Dorothy Day and Luci Shaw have been expanding my horizons. Their books are filled with tenacious wisdom that only comes with seniority. Such perspective has been real gold.

This summer I am exploring -

Outside my circle

Outside my city

Can’t wait for you to come along.

(Picture – Storm King Art Center, NY)

Delight

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I’ve wintered with my friend, Dorothy. My chronic illness flared up for months and kept me half buried under its avalanche.

In between the haze of work and fitful almost-sleep, I turned to a book, The Duty of Delight – Dorothy Day’s journal entries from 1930 until her death in 1980, carefully compiled into a complete work. This small-statured single mom in New York accidentally changed the face of her faith.

Read the rest at Charity Singleton Craig‘s space.