If I had it to do over, I would choose different parents. Not that mine were bad. On the contrary I believe they would rank in the upper echelon on a success chart of parental arts, They reared eight children, none of whom joined a militia or became a scientologist. Only one became a Republican. We progeny were fed and clothed and spanked when we had it coming. They did well by us, and we were happy to care for them as they aged and died.
Next time I would choose parents with some rhythm in their bones. Rhythm. Isn’t it delightful word? It was the only method of birth control Catholics of that era were permitted to use. You’re saying it’s still true? I doubt my parents even tried to circumvent a stork delivery, but it they did, the were poor in risk analysis. I’m not complaining. I love my siblings. I even sort of loved the Republican before he passed away, giving another boost toward Arizona turning blue.
None of my siblings can keep a beat. Two sisters play the piano but you’d never want to sit them down over a drum kit. Both my parents liked to dance, waltzes, polkas, two-steps. They were adept at that, but that’s as far as it went in terms of complexity. Otherwise Dad was unmusical. I never heard him sing, not even in church, which was probably a good thing. Mom liked to sing around the house, “The Old Rugged Cross: and “The Letter Edged in Black.” Her favorites, as it should be, were songs of love gone bad. When she was at the gateway of eternity the vigilants at the bedside started singing “You are my sunshine” and instead of passing into the Beyond she opened her eyes and sang along, then lived for a few more improbable weeks.
I’ve taken up the accordion. What was I thinking? Not being able to keep a rhythm with one hand, why not try two simultaneously? After six months I still stumble on my hike through the alpine heights of “Edelweiss”. When music happens (“small and white, clean and bright”) immediately I try to grasp it and I choke it off. If there is an audience I play like I’m solving a knotty equation: ponder, propose, erase, erase.
Is it fear? And if so, what of? Fear of mistakes. Fear of exposing the inner doofus. Fear of being unlovable.
I try a new path: make all the mistakes. Go ahead. It’s what Jack, the recorder teacher, advocates. Keep going. For a few minutes I’m skipping along but because I don’t worry about mistakes doesn’t mean that I don’t make them. I do, as many as when I was sweating them. Maybe sweating them wasn’t totally misguided.
It doesn’t answer the question: is it fear related? Or is it plain and simple the wrong genes operating in a vehicle with high mileage.
Here’s another avenue. It’s what I tell my fear-of-water swim students. Feel it in your body. I become aware of my fingertips on the bass buttons. The smooth cool press of the palms on the bellows. The weight straddling the shoulders. Whaddaya know—this helps, too. Briefly. Once again, as soon as music flows, I revert to grasping, and crash, fall off the mountain.
Here’s a truth I am trying to avoid: it’s going to take a lot more practice. I play for forty-five minutes, and then put the black thing down. I understand why real musicians practice through blisters.
This could be what I fear: that I am going to have to, as Chinese youngsters are taught, “eat bitter.” To practice far more. (“Every morning you greet me.”) Do I have the time? I do: the time I spend reading the daily distressing news. If I continue to flub the jump from B-flat to A in “La Martiniana,” then I need to navigate it slowly, methodically, over and over until the mind (especially) and the fingers succumb, until repetition drives it into my body. That’s where the music is born and lives, if it ever will. After having my bitter salad, I can move forward to the next thicket and have some more.
But is it all that bitter? I suppose I could look at that. I constantly remind my swim students: if it’s not fun, don’t do it. Am I having fun? I also tell them learning to swim is a lot easier than learning the accordion. The meme I sometimes reference: it takes ten thousand hours to master a skill. One student grimaced at that. I said to her, “What if it’s ten thousand hours of fun?”
It would be much simpler with well-chosen parents.