Tag Archives: music

Just Say No To Laundry

It’s Monday night, it’s a little after 10:30, and I am not doing the laundry.

Before you start in with #firstworldproblems, let me explain.  Mondays are my laundry day.  Mondays are also a work day and cello lesson day and Cub Scout night, but it’s one of the only consistent days where I’m home with the kids, due to a really whacky custody schedule.  (It works well, except for minor details like finishing projects around the house and remembering which house I’m in when I wake up in the morning.)  It’s tempting to just do it every other Saturday when I’m home, but we’d run out of clean jeans and underpants.  Also, my son’s dirty socks would probably achieve sentience and take over the neighborhood if I left them alone that long.

So, Mondays it is.  But not this Monday.  I’m just as tired as I am on most Monday nights – VERY tired, since they tend to run for about 18 hours with only a few minutes’ break here and there, with at least one meal a day eaten while I’m working or standing up.  I’m just as busy.  The clothes are just as dirty.  But tonight I am putting my weary bare foot down and saying no to the laundry.

The next five weeks will be [insert bad word here].  I made a quick estimate of the number of lessons, rehearsals and performances I’ll be involved in over the next five weeks, and it’s around 120.  Some are half an hour long, some will approach five hours.  Nearly 100 of those will be in the next 19 days, building up to a hellacious three-day period with two major evening performances and a day-long student competition.  It’s not my favorite part of the year, but it’s a crucial part of making enough money to survive the summer.

I’ve decided to do a few things every day of the next five weeks, in order to keep my sanity.  They’re everyday, obvious things – drink water, sleep, take a walk, spend 15 minutes reading something non-work-related, that kind of thing.  But these are things I will forget to do this month, if I don’t remind myself.

I blush to admit it, but I made a rewards chart.  It has little squares for star stickers.  (I paperclipped the stickers to the chart so I wouldn’t lose them.)  Today I got five stars out of the seven.  The sixth one (quiet meditation on Scripture) I can do right before bed.  The seventh one involves sleep.

And that means going to bed.

Now.

Even if the laundry isn’t sorted.

This shouldn’t feel like an epiphany, but it does.  I am so accustomed to doing one more thing, sorting one more basket, stuffing one more thing into an already too-full day.  I’m trying to make tomorrow easier, but the truth is that tomorrow is going to be a lot like today no matter what I do tonight – I’ll just be groggy from lack of sleep if I try to get too far ahead of myself.  This seems painfully obvious, now that I think about it.

The small, homely epiphanies are the ones that most thoroughly surprise me.

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God Between the Notes

One of my favorite things about the Quaker tradition is the high value it places on silence.  Active silence, waiting silence, not just a passive stillness, is a recurring theme in Quaker writings and meetings.  “Be still and know” is one way of putting it.  I also like the more direct version:  “Shut up and listen.”

This evening I went to hear two of my musical colleagues in concert, a tenor and a pianist who are both unbelievably good at what they do.  The music, as expected, was stunning.  What surprised me tonight, though, was the quiet moments between all the sturm und drang of the poetry and wild Late Romantic harmonies flying through the air.

My friend, the tenor, has a lovely soaring voice that can carry with apparent ease over an orchestra.  My former teacher, the pianist, is barely taller than I am, but he can wrestle huge and powerful sounds out of the marvelous Steinway in the university’s main performance hall.  All of that big and wonderful sound was in evidence tonight, but there were also many instances of quietness and stillness that were somehow even more compelling.

Listening to that astounding voice fading into near-silence, but still floating high above the barely-there tones of the piano, the divine seems not so far away.  People often use terms like “magical” to describe this kind of music, but tonight it occurred to me that “holy” is at least as true.  I sat there, barely breathing, as the pianist’s hands hovered over the keys, reaching down to delicately draw each note from the instrument and drop it into the echoing silence.

I think God lives in those echoes.  We make our human noise, and we make it as best we can, and then in that silent, listening stillness, we hear our voices and the work of our hands come back to us, both less and more than they were when we sent them out.

The musical term for a silence within the music is a “rest”.  God lives in the rests, as much as in the music, if I can just hold still long enough to hear him.

Echoes of Mercy, Whispers of Love

One of my favorite things about exploring the concept of sacramental living is that all of a sudden, God is everywhere.  Not just in the usual way of being everywhere at all times – I can see him all over the place now.  Strange places, like in novels and on back roads and in cups of hot tea.  (Not literally IN my cup of tea – although if I’m going to take the omnipresence thing seriously, I guess he kind of is, so I’ll just let you work out your own theology on that one.)

Tonight I heard echoes of God in my rehearsal for a classical concert on Sunday.  I’ve worked with the mezzo-soprano many times before, so she’s used to my ability to follow a soloist, bending my musical interpretation in that dance of give-and-take that all good music should be.  The viola player has heard me play, but we’ve never performed together.  He is phenomenal, to the point that he scares me a little, and I was nervous about working with him.

Then he drops this compliment on me.  (I’ll give it to you verbatim, and then I’ll translate.)  He says to my singer friend, while eyeing me, “She’s really good at that, the [he sways in place for a second, waving his hands back and forth with his viola tucked under his arm] – you know, instead of counting.”  If you don’t speak Musician, that probably didn’t impress you as much as it did me, so here it is in normal-person English:  “She knows when to follow and when to take the lead, and she values the line of the music more than staying precisely on tempo.”

Coming from the principal violist of the local symphony, who is not generally known for scattering compliments around, that completely made my day.  I appreciated it partly because I was so relieved that it had gone well, but also because that is one of my core values as a musician.  All of my professional piano playing is with other musicians, and I want that flexibility to be a hallmark of my playing.  It’s important to me that people be able to play the way they want to play, without having to fight me for it.

I’d never heard it phrased that way, though:  “Instead of counting.”  When I thought about it, I realized he was right.  Once I’ve learned a piece well enough that I can keep half my attention on the other performer instead of my own hands, I’m not really thinking about “ONE-two-three-four” any more – I’m hearing lines and shapes and tone colors, making the music dance and bend, never quite the same as the last time.  When we reach the end of a piece and we have to play the last few notes together, I really don’t care how many beats Brahms said to play them – I care about these three notes with this violist at this performance, and if that turns out to be 3.4 beats instead of 3, that is fine.  If we decide that it just needs to hang there until he runs out of bow, even better!  (That’s what we settled on, incidentally.)

As I drove home from rehearsal, the words “instead of counting” kept rolling around in my head, and eventually I remembered where I’d heard them.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love doesn’t count.  Love bends and flexes and dances, so that this love for this child, this friend, this hurting colleague or joyful neighbor or hungry stranger, is exactly as it’s meant to be at this moment.

Count less.  Listen more.  Find God where you least expect him.