Saturday, July 11, 2020

Life Lessons from Quarentine in D minor

One of my sons came home from college more than a month early this spring. Covid19 precautions were being taken by schools across the country, making it a time for uncertainty, a distance learning curve, and a lot of family togetherness. One of the first things he asked for when he walked in the door was the sheet music for Cannon in D. All of our children had taken piano lessons starting age 8 but quit after about four years, not long enough to excel. And when you add another five years without practice, I was wondering if he'd remembered any of the notes. I printed the music (March 18th), and the moment I looked at the stanzas, felt the task was impossible. When he assured me he was up to the challenge, however, I felt instantly inspired to make his insanely lofty goal my own, and told him that I would learn it too, "even if it takes me a decade."

The first day, I had to recite mnemonic devices like "All Cars Eat Gas" and "Great Big Dogs Fight Animals" dozens and dozens of times just to get the notes in the first few measures, the easiest measures in the piece. Maybe 10 years wasn't going to be long enough to learn the five pages. I worked line by line every morning and at the two month mark, I was able to play the entire song!  There were some rough patches and I had no sense of dynamics or musicality about any of it. That took another couple of months.

I came to see learning this piece of music as some important life analogies:

1. Action is what matters most.

Talking about doing something doesn't count for much; you actually have to put your energy where your mouth is to get anything done. My son who requested the sheet music has not sat down to learn the first three notes, while I have competed it. Action is everything.

2. Baby steps and daily habits add up.

I never sat for three hour practice sessions. It was 15 minutes one day and 20 the next. Consistency was what helped me get through it with pleasure. No one can eat a whole whale (or whatever that weight is in beef or vegetables) in one seating.

3. What happens first in the day gets done.

Things come up throughout the day and bump some of the today's goals into tomorrow, but the thing you do first, always gets done, whether that's saying a prayer or taking a shower. I had to get my practice time in before my kids woke up and complained about my noise drowning out their noise. It always got done.

4. There are times when you have no idea what you are doing.

When I started out, I wasn't sure which notes to play or what my fingering should be, but I knew how the beginning of Pachelbel's Canon sounded, so knew when I got it right. By page four, I was in unfamiliar territory. I couldn't tell if I was getting it right or wrong. I muddled and muddled and muddled until one morning I heard something that sounded almost like a melody. When you're not sure if you are on the right track, keeping moving forward little by little until the fog lifts and your vision becomes clear again.

5. Negative thoughts will psych you out.

When I'd tell myself, "here comes the hard part," I'd slow down and stumble. But one day I made it through without a mistake and was like, "Oh, I forgot to tell myself to struggle...and it was easy." Any time your focus is on someone else watching you and what they're thinking, or what a mess things are in life, you are taking the focus off solving problems and doing what needs to be done.

6. When you think you're done, think again.

I heard my painting professor talk about the fact that he'd learned to paint 20 years earlier, so how was it that he was still learning to paint? We can always get better. A writer may "finish" her book, but if it's her first draft, she is probably looking at more time and effort in the revisions than she did "writing" the book to begin with. Learning the notes was just the first step. I still had my work cut out for me, trying to make it into music.

7. Personal commitment doesn't depend on anyone else.

Learning this song was going to be a mother-son, bonding thing. We were going to do it together. His lack of follow-through had nothing to do with my end of the bargain though. I said I was going to learn it, so I learned it and I am happier for the accomplishment.  Sometimes we wait for our friends to save up enough to take that cruise with us, or our husbands to get the backyard garden going, when we could have spent that waiting time moving forward, getting things done, and realizing our own dreams.

8. It's never too late to start.

I am encouraged when I see people start a new instrument in their fifties and sixties. I'm not too old to become much better at the piano, and it's not too late for my son to learn this song or any other.  Rather than focus on what we haven't learned yet, we need to focus on what we can learn and get busy doing it.

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