Wednesday Wonders: Seeking Life’s Rhythm

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Last night, the director kept stopping us in that annoying way that band leaders have.

“We’ve got to get those triplets sharp. Some of you are thinking you can just slip through them at a relaxed pace and it’s throwing us off,” he said.

“I am not in a parade up here waving at you like a princess from a float.” Here he wiggled his fingers at us like he does when he needs the whole note people to shush so the melody people with their quieter instruments could get heard.

And then he would have us practice. Again. Start at measure forty seven. Again.

We didn’t always get it exactly right. But he made us repeat until it was at least better. After three or four or more times, we got a little more together or the parts balanced each other out. If we remember to do it that way on concert day, it will be a lovely small miracle.

The band isn’t the only place where we humans in community need to be in sync or to quiet down so others can be heard. 

I just got off of teaching our last quarter this August 17th. This summer more than any before it, I felt the distinct pain of working through the time when other teachers are off. I have never had three whole months like many teachers get, but our college used to line up better with the K12 rhythm when we finished at the end of July.

I am not complaining, exactly. I adore my time off and there are even benefits to getting out so late. I will have time to help my kids get going in their own schools. I get to enjoy fall in ways that many others might not with day trips to the mountain while others are gearing up for their new school year.

But I feel apart. Separate. A little like I am playing triplets that don’t match the ones played in the next section. Or worse. Like that one instrument that comes in during the measure when the whole band has a rest.

This asynchronous rest of mine has taught me something. It matters when I am together with the group. There is a power in the rhythm of habits for writing and music practice that gets even stronger when others work along with me.

I am not going to whine about it (much more). Instead, I am going to remember that lesson the next time I am in charge of my own schedule.

May you find joy in the rhythms of your community-

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P.S. We’ll be playing at the Showplace Stage near the Blue Gate on Thursday, September 8th and Monday, September 19th from 7:00-7:30 . Come by if you’d like to hear whether we remember what the director said.

We’ll play Hogan’s Heroes, The King and I, and the Pink Panther along with a few others.

Finally, for just a little extra, here’s one of my all time favorites on rhythm and what it’s like to align with an even greater song.

Wednesday Wonders: Finding Help When Art Scares You Silly

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Clarinetists with warm-looking fingers

Thursday night I was driving down to the church when I realized my fingers were freezing, my heart was beating, and my mind kept thinking of all the ways I was going to embarrass myself.

I wasn’t headed to a solo performance with my clarinet. It was the rehearsal with the choir.

The music I was playing for Lent only had one short run. The key signature wasn’t difficult, but the time signatures changed from 4/4 to 3/4 to 6/4 to 2/2. They changed repeatedly from measure to measure, even during my rests in places where I didn’t have them marked in my transposed version. I had to rely on the director to see when to play my notes on the entrances.

For those who don’t read music, imagine a dance where the rhythm keeps changing and everyone will see your neon tap shoes stomp on your partner’s toes if you get the count wrong.

The whole thing nearly gave me hives.

And I didn’t feel any better after we practiced together.

The rehearsal ended with me totally flubbing the last notes and everyone thanking me for agreeing to play for the church in three days.

I felt like they thought I was a lost cause, but they weren’t going to worry too much. It was just a regular Sunday, not Easter, after all.

I tried several mental tricks to calm myself, many of them things that I tell others when they are stressed out.

  • I took deep breaths.
  • I thought of other times when I had been successful.
  • I reminded myself that the people listening loved me and would still love me even if I played all the wrong notes and came in after the song was over. My family might even love me more out of sympathy.

These things helped a little. I looked for more ways to reassure myself.

  • I reached out to the pianist and begged her to help me since I could not practice the timing alone. (Miki agreed. She is such a blessing.)
  • I imagined feeling calm and successful after the piece was over.
  • I asked my dear friend Ruth to pray for my peace of mind.

These things helped more but not enough. My fingers were still so cold I could hardly work the keys on my instrument. (Cold fingers are one of my stress reactions. They are not helpful.)

Finally, as I was sitting through the beginning of the service, waiting an eternity to stand in front of the crowd, I thought of a writing idea I use when the words get mired in fear.

I told the song that if she wanted to come out of me, she was going to have to do some of the work because I wasn’t sure I could do it myself. I even got a little snotty with her because I was feeling so stressed about my potential public humiliation. (Never mind that I had agreed to play and, on some level, deeply wanted to do it.)

I had often talked to my stories this way but I had never tried it before with a song.

I instantly felt calmer. It was almost like the song had just been waiting for me to ask.

Ten minutes later I walked in front of the pews and played. I made a few small mistakes but came in at all the right places in the right tempo. Or maybe Lenten Song moved through me and managed her own entrances.

Either way, I loved the peace I found by talking back to my art.

It’s a little woo-woo, I grant you. But the older I get, the more woo-woo the the best parts of life feel to me.

I didn’t make this up myself, by the way. I got the idea from Elizabeth Gilbert’s first Ted Talk and from her book Big Magic.

I’m beginning to think that this sort of sass might work for any great endeavor we try.

Want to finish a degree? Take the classes, study hard, and then tell the degree that if it wants you to earn it, it will have to step up.

Want to raise children? Change the diapers, set limits, hug them often and get serious with the universe, explaining that you are going to need help with that insanely impossible task.

Want more peace in the world? Volunteer, be kind to others especially when they cut you off in traffic, and then tell the world that this is way too big of a task. Insist that you are going to need help to see what to do and how to get it done. A lot of help.

Get snappy with the degree, the universe, or the world. This is key. Maybe talking back shows you are not kidding around. I don’t know. I just know it works for me.

And then relax. The song, the degree, the grown children and the world might surprise you with the impossible things you can do.

They might even surprise you like “Lenten Song” surprised me with the exact right timing so that the people in front of me could hear the song the way she wanted to be heard.

May you rest in the help you can find when you need it-

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Here’s the “Lenten Song” written by Mark Hayes and the solo played by a flute.

And a few other wonders from my week:

A recycled bit on the wonder series:

I love the way writing and other art forms open my eyes to the surprises around me in my everyday life. Many of these wonders will also be in my Instagram account since I discovered the joy of that program during an advent photo project.

I collect these surprises like little rocks in a kid’s pocket. I may use them in a story. I may not. Either way, life gets a little brighter when I take the time to notice.

At the Liberty for Christmas

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“It turns out you play clarinet with my mother!” said the woman I see every morning when I drop my son off at preschool. I thought the new lady who took my place as last chair looked familiar at the practices.

Last Tuesday, I played a Christmas concert in the Puyallup Community Band at the Liberty Theater in Puyallup. The last time I remember being in the Liberty it was a dollar to see a movie. We saw The Natural with Robert Redford that was released in 1984. Yes. It was that long ago.

Much of the woodwork is the same. The theater is still small. The stairs to the women’s bathroom are ridiculously steep and definitely not up to code. Now the place has been remodeled and is known as a wedding venue. And I had a marvelous time in 2014.

At first, I wasn’t sure I would be able to manage. Work wore me out on Tuesday. I went to my mother’s house with the kids for dinner and lay on her couch, mustering the energy to iron my white shirt.

Things got better when I walked in the doors to see the guests finishing their dinners around tables with white linens. It’s hard to be tired in a room full of happy chatting people. I made my way down front where I would sit, starting to wake up a bit.

The woodwinds and small brass sat crammed in a pit with the big brass on the stage behind us. My clarinet playing neighbor had her family handing over the rails into the pit. Her 3 small grandchildren stared down at us while one of them sucked a pacifier.

This made me feel much less annoynymous. Usually I feel hidden behind the flutes with no one looking at me in particular.

Still. The sing alongs gave the audience something to do besides watch my fingers mess up. And I loved the narrated T’was the Night Before Christmas. At times I even could get to that place where I set my thinking aside and let my brain rest into the notes and the intense feeling of togetherness that comes from making music with others.

I left the Liberty full of energy with Sleigh Ride ringing in my ears on a night when I could barely drag myself off the couch to get there. Life can be really fine if you are in a band. Sarah’s mom and I are lucky.

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