What I love, is music.
For much of last year I fought a loosing battle to keep up enough puff for woodwind instruments which I have been playing, on and off, since I was eight. At that age it was simply the school recorder; but our music teacher was nothing if not keen about recorder playing. By the time I left school a decade later our teacher had progressed from “preparing” the upright piano as a harpsichord with thumb tacks in the felt hammers to bringing a spinet to school in the back of her car; and a quartet in which I played had performed in the Opera House and won a 2nd in the City of Sydney Eisteddfod.
Only a couple of years ago I began taking music lessons once again, and I have written several times in these pages about the joys of playing baroque recorder. Perhaps it was the vaguely realised sense that my musical tenure was inexorably waning that propelled me to play in two ensembles and an orchestra every week, with at least an hour a day practicing the many new pieces our director challenged us with. It was a busy life on the busses heading to and from lessons and rehearsals, and best of all a concert now and then. The humour and intellectual stimulation of each visit to the Conservatorium was glorious. Halcyon days, indeed!
Early last year I perfected a technique of playing with the breathing mask in place – not a simple trick balancing delicately tongued diaphragmatic airflow into the instrument with 1.46 KPa of air pressure going up your nose! Afraid that I might finally loose my place in the orchestra I briefly took lessons in two different non-wind instruments, but the sounds were not pretty. Eventually, despite several attempts at denial, reality had to be admitted. By the middle of term 4 I was only practicing on alternate days at home, each rehearsal took several hours to recover from, and a performance set me back for days. It was untenable.
Instinct led me to reach for a decision while we were at sea in November. The thrill of that week gave me a perspective from which I could think calmly and clearly, without the entanglement of maudlin emotion. I put down various thoughts in my journal. I decided that I would finish playing at a point of strength, rather than turning gradually into the bumbling guy in the wheelchair that can’t keep up. I realised that I must be resolute. I set a day on which I would reach a decision, and having done so I wrote an email onboard the ship to the Conservatorium back at home, and drafted a letter of appreciation to the teachers with whom I had shared so much.
This week past, had my path been otherwise, music would have resumed once again. I admit to a temptation to despair, to weep for myself, to indulge in sorrow: there is so much that I miss. I could easily go down that path … but to do so I would have to turn away from something bigger that I feel inside. Just what that bigger thing might be is elusive; but it is hopeful, joyful, and almost always there if I take the time to be quiet. I think it may be gratitude.
I wrote a much better essay along these lines in 2010. The Gift of Loosing Things. This is a brief quote about gratitude, which is, to my mind, the only good way to look backwards:
Gratitude dispels attachment: it’s much easier to face not running on the beach with my kids when I remember the many, many times I have. In a similar way the choice I make to look ahead and move on is a strong claim on the ground behind me on which I once stood.
Thankfully music is not all that I love,
And I have those that love me.
Always glad to hear from you….