Seven years sounds like quite a while on paper... but in reality, it's so short a time. So short that sometimes I can't believe it's been seven years already!
Seven years ago, I went through a horrible divorce (are there any not horrible ones?) and lost almost every material thing I owned. I rode a bicycle for the better part of a year, saving and recovering from that experience. I still had my flute, and my constant bike riding and the endless support from my friends and family kept me physically and mentally strong through the roughest part of it. But I thought I'd never recover.
This month marks the seven year anniversary. I've reflected on that time, worried that I hadn't learned or changed or done ANYTHING. That besides changing skin and tastebuds, I had remained where I originally stood... that I was stunted.
The outer stuff has changed for sure, but the inner stuff - like has my playing stagnated, or has my professional position changed enough? I haven't pursued a University track position, I haven't released my own album yet. Until very recently, what I had to say wasn't there to speak. It seems as though all of the markers that show me that I'm headed up the right elevator are not in place. I've stayed awake at night, afraid that I've just been hanging out in Life's Lobby, and keep pushing the UP button on the elevator and waiting for the doors to open... am I progressing? How? Where? How is it different from seven years ago?
But as I thought about things, I was shocked at how and where I had changed and how drastically! The list below is just the surface of what has happened in the last seven years. I am a believer in horrible circumstances turning into wonderful metamorphoses.
Seven years ago, I was playing and teaching and doing fine with it. But I couldn't tell you one flute from another, nor who to even call up if you wanted to try one!
I had never played at (or even attended) an NFA Convention.
I was way too much of a goody goody to have spoken my mind and have been fired from a job that didn't suit me (let alone three in a row!).
I had no idea that I had a talent or much of a passion for art, or that I could win an award for a children's book, or that doing art would enhance my flute playing. Seven years ago I would have been too insecure about myself to ever explore very much outside of my flute career.
I never thought that I'd move three times, and live in a farmhouse in a Mexican town in Iowa, or climb the Appalachian mountains the better part of everyday for two years, or return to Austin.
I never dreamed that my students would be as smart, talented, dedicated and wonderful, and how many would be called to be professional musicians themselves.
I wouldn't have thought that I'd pick up martial arts again and that it would fit so beautifully with my flute playing and developing philosophy. Or that I'd discover some of my closest friends there.
Most of all, seven years ago, I never would have believed that I had even an ounce of the self discipline, humor, inner strength and overall ambition to keep going. It has gone so slowly in some regards. But looking back, it's been too quick to measure. Forget the elevator. I reckon that my path is the one up the side of the skyscraper, and someone was kind enough to lend me their rubber suction cups!! The top will come, in my own time.
I share this with the humblest of gratitude and joy. I hope that if anyone is going through something difficult, or that they believe that they haven't changed for the better from it, look again!! You'll be shocked!
Happy Anniversary to me!
I remember one morning when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I was getting ready for school when my mom called me downstairs. James Galway was playing on Good Morning America. She had the VCR set to record and after a brief interview "The Man with the Golden Flute" played.
I was entranced by his sound, his effortless playing... and at HOW FAST he could play!
I became close to obsessed with playing fast. I practiced fast. I played things three notches faster than I could play. I tried to mimic him! Admittedly, I sounded pretty bad for awhile.
Thank heavens for good teachers. My first private lessons with my flute and piano teachers were all in slow motion. My fingers were slow to match my tongue. My hands moved in time over the keyboard to train them to move together. My finger exercises were a practice in slow-motion torture!
My teachers told me about aural illusions.
Just like optical illusions, we can trick our ears into hearing things. For instance, slightly slower, EVEN playing will result in the technical passage sounding faster.
You don't believe me? Try it! Find a technically challenging passage and play it fast. Now, set your metronome a little slower and play it evenly. The time that you played it evenly and a little slower will sound faster than the messy passage. Play it for a friend. Play it for your mom or teacher. They will agree!
So the moral to this blog is "slow and steady wins the race"... or "even Steven gets the cake"... or something like that...
I have a big voice. It's distinctive - you can't miss it. I've always been able to talk over most any noise... most anybody, too... I have a big voice.
But laryngitis has always been a big issue with me. Both physically and creatively.
I have things to say. Lots. At one point in my life, at a time when I didn't feel heard, I tried to hone it, or direct it in a way that didn't offend anyone - in a way I believed everyone would understand... I wanted for the whole world to find something valuable in my output. You can imagine my angst, my audacity, and my lack of creative voice during that period!
I struggle with artistic laryngitis. Often. I have something to say - something that needs... OUT! But, for the life of me I can't gather my voice to say it. It's like a big trumpet mute got shoved down my throat. It suddenly becomes close to impossible to express the right stuff in the way I hear it being expressed!
I suspect this is true of everyone sometimes. We all occasionally need an artistic lozenge to help us get back on track. And whether the laryngitis was caused from an external source - criticism, rejection, etc... or internal - fear of said criticism and rejection - is really unimportant at the core. The creative voice needs to return... as does the courage, sense of self, and the joy that connecting to Other with the artistic voice brings!
I truly hope that upon reading this, you will take a breath, gain courage and remember that you are the only one to say what needs to be said from you! That is crucial - to gather our universal artistic courage, suck on a lozenge, and express what is in our collective through our singularity.
I'll admit it - I love to practice. I practice every chance I get, for as long as I can.
Here's why I love to practice: it is a meditation. Yes, just like you I practice technique and tone and those spots where I fumble. I turn on the metronome and play at ridiculously slow speeds. I practice keeping my fingers over the keys and my posture optimum.
But I also focus on those spots between - where my fingers are in the process of moving, where the notes are changing. Those places - the places in between - that's where the magic lives. Not necessarily in the shiny casing of the beautiful notes one plays, or the perfect rhythm and technique with which one executes technical passages. Yes, those are important. But so, too, is the silence, the minutiae, the infinite movement of air... for in that space, you will find your voice!
I often do this exercise. It's loosely based on a meditation practice that I learned from a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Austin, TX:
Set the metronome at quarter=60. Play a major five-note pattern (T&G 1 for those who know these exercises) giving each note 4 beats.
*Listen to your air speed.
*Listen to your fingers.
*Listen how the movement of your fingers affects the movement of your air. Breathe whenever needed.
*Listen for the silence between when one note ends and the next one begins, no matter how small or inaudible it is. Put your focus into the infinite space of the inaudible silence.
*How does the air/fingers/voice/silence change when you shift the pattern up or down?
*Do this exercise for as long as your focus allows. There is no "required" time for this to be beneficial.
After awhile, this simple meditative exercise helped me to understand what my voice sounds like. And how I want to shape it - move it through air. There became this ever shifting absolute...
It also pointed out to me that I am nervous - have tons of agenda - and have lots of my persona tied up into this ego flute thing. I sometimes get agitated doing this exercise. Blah, I think, I don't have time, why am I focusing on this? What will so-and-so think of my playing? Why can't I play in time? I really need to practice technique/tone/self promotion/running more... all of those thought patterns and well-worn stories start to reel through my mind at super speed!
But in gently bringing myself back to listen to the silence, I become a lot lighter. My ego has to go. Running, time, fingers, tone don't exist in that silent space, even though all around it is a cyclone of movement. It is teaching me that, regardless of what is happening outside of the silence or what my ego is telling me, I have absolutely NOTHING to lose.
I LOVE to practice.