In May I issued a challenge to take time this summer to simply “be,” whether at an outdoor concert, on a bike, in a hammock, or with a book. Just be. I took myself up on the challenge (as hard as that is for me!) and gave myself the gift of time and space. As I emptied myself of busy-ness I found space for a deepening of my soul to emerge and be heard. As I reflect on these experiences I hope you will find moments to pause and consider for yourself as well.
As is true with many things in life, the musical journey is full of paradoxes. How do I reconcile the spiritual self with the physical self? What is the affekt I wish to convey in my playing yet how does my technique allow/hamper me to do so? How is what I feel expressed through the mechanics of the instrument and form of the composition at hand? How do I incorporate quietude and space into a hunger for new repertoire and musical experiences?
For me, the right side of each question is the easy, or at least tangible part of the paradox. I can experiment with how to make the desired sound on the piano and study the score to understand the form. I can do exercises to improve or address technical issues. I can dig into new repertoire and engage in new performances (as performer or listener). I can physically be at the piano.
As I recently found myself drowning in the obsessive sea of doing, a gentle nudge from a dear mentor suggested that perhaps it was time to revisit the bliss of being; to reacquaint myself with my soul, my passion, my purpose. So, I turned off the outside and gently, slowly, prayerfully, revisited the opening chapters of Jill Timmons’ book, The Musician’s Journey (Oxford University Press, 2013). On pages 49 and 52 Timmons gently challenges me to consider “how would I live out my vision if I didn’t have to make a living?” And, I was given permission to ask hard questions such as “what am I afraid of?” or “am I willing to be vulnerable to achieve my goals?”
From within The Musician’s Journey, I was called to read The Musician’s Soul by James Jordon (GIA Publications, Inc., 1999). Even deeper into my soul I ventured. I was reminded that before I can do anything, I must be in touch with who I am. Through Jordon’s generous narrative I was reminded of the gift of self-awareness and the basal vulnerability that must be present in order to truly share one’s music with another; that creativity and my soul lies deep within me and will give me no peace until I get out of its way and let it be expressed. Through this stillness within, the answers and peace emerge.
Rather than bearing down, doing in order to have (what? more? more gigs? more money? more accolades?), I am reminded that I am free to be and use the doing to be more in touch with who I am. And that the having flows naturally in a way I could never contrive or force on my own. This is scary territory indeed—this being, listening, trusting. While at the neighborhood swimming pool during one of my “summertime” sessions, I watched as one child completely trusted the water to hold her while another wasn’t yet ready, holding on tightly to his parent; another belly-flopping rather than trusting and tucking her chin for a dive while another took a deep bounce and floated into the deep end. I laid back and floated, watched the clouds swim by, and reflected on how I have been all of those children many times over throughout my life.
I am grateful to have taken this time to visit within once again. As we head into July, I feel a renewed peace and centeredness that brings deep joy and trust in a universe that will provide what I need if I am open, vulnerable, and willing. Yet, I know my personal Musician’s Journey and my continuing acquaintance and friendship with my Musician’s Soul is not a one stop shop. This peace and centeredness will ebb and flow as life moves forward. I will continue to develop those concrete tools so that I am further equipped to hear that perfect sound inside, know my center, and trust my internal compass to recreate its joy for others to experience. Isn’t that the purpose? I know it is mine.