Wednesday, September 30, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 92: The Power of I DON'T WANNA

"I don't want to!"

Anyone who's ever experienced a strong-willed three year old girl in a Tasmanian tantrum knows the power of that statement.

It is so powerful that, when exercised, it will make even the most hard-lined pacifist socialist start thinking Republican things like, "Is it possible to design and construct a missile (AKA a pair of rolled up socks) that can be thrown through doors and connect with soft targets with absolute precision?"

It is so powerful that, when exercised, it will make even a person who's committed to 100 days of practice and who's at day 92 choose to sit in front of the computer with a cup of coffee at 7:30 am instead of going to the practice room.

But, it is just kryptonite. It is not more powerful than locomotives, not able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. We leave that job to Super Sue, who DOESN'T WANNA [insert shaken fists here] but is about to go do it.

... because like Mommy says, "It doesn't matter if you don't want to. You HAVE to."

Monday, September 28, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 90: Ooh, wow. 90.

Well. 90 days. My sherpa told me that "they" say it takes 90 days to make a new habit. If that were true, I'd have been practicing every day by now, and it would be easy. Hm....

Wait. Can we revisit the whole "is a gig a practice session?" question? Didn't we all agree that "playing" (AKA "gigging") is not really "practice," per se?

For example: Friday, played alto all afternoon with Stage Door Canteen at the Scallop Festival. That's a lot of playing. Saturday, played a three-hour gig with Steve at Plato's Harvest organic farm in Middleboro. (The turkeys.. white, feathered, and loquacious... REALLY dug us. Seriously... the turkeys all came running when we started playing. See more pics at Plato's Harvest's blog.) That's a lot of playing. Sunday, rehearsed for three hours with Caravan, in preparation for our upcoming October shows. That, also, was a lot of playing.

But was it practice? And did I actually play longtones at any point during any part of those three days (even five minutes counts as a practice session)? And if the answer to question 2 is "no," then what WAS that nine hours or so of playing this weekend? Not eligible?

What makes a playing session worthy of its name?

-One must wear Hair Shirt. Sit alone. Play long notes. Breathe deeply. Contemplate one's unworthiness. Suffer.

-One must don cilice. (If you would like to purchase one, or perhaps a hair shirt, these people can help, by God. Your practice sessions will improve radically.)

-One must suffer: work on stuff you can't do well, already. Don't just enjoy the stuff you know already. That's so... so... not practice-ish.

-One must endure mind numbing repetition, with a pained looking smile, so that anyone who peeks in at you in your practice room understands how hard you work at enjoying yourself. Also, adding some pain into the process makes it possible for you to charge more at gigs. Remember: This is work!

-One must believe in "progress" as a goal. One must not accept mere "plateau."

And if you believe all this, you may choose to visit my real estate blog, where I have this lovely waterfront property for sale....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 86: Last Night

Thanks so much to folks who came out to the Bridgewater Traditional Irish Music Ensemble's session last night, part of the Bridgewater STate College Improv Nights series, which takes place one Wednesday a month at the Campus Center. About 20 musicians showed up, representing Irish musicians from Cape Cod to Boston, and we had a great night of playing! Thank you to Bill Black for co-hosting the event with me. Here's one little pic... hopefully we'll have more to post soon if they get sent to me! This photo was sent by Victor Oliver, mandolin player. Victor's wife plays whistle and is an alumn of Bridgewater, from back in the day "when students dressed for dinner and were served"--back when it was an all-woman's college and its main emphasis, the training of school teachers.

Hooray for Prof. Don Running and Dr. Salil Sachdev for getting these events up and running!

Sorry the photo is just of Bill and me... there were lots of us there, but Victor said he had only enough batteries to take this one shot!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 85: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

Holy laugh-out-loud practice session. Great lesson for a music teacher: start a new instrument! Making good on the promise, again... practicing Maxine the Euphonium because she is my new best friend.

And how fun!!!! I mean, what is NOT funny about making elephant-just-ate-beans sounds and calling it music... AND having the pleasure of also calling it "work" -- simultaneously hoping that the neighbors are listening and thinking the worst!

Holy laugh-out-loud, Batman, Maxine is not just sexy... she's funny too! I think I'm in love.

But warning, you brass players out there:

Ever see the Seinfeld episode about the dentist who converted to Judaism, and then felt okay about telling Seinfeld Jewish jokes? Well... someone tell my brass playing friends that just because I have Maxine the Euphonium, I'm not yet ready for your reed-bashing parties.

"Shingle lickers?" "Wood suckers?" REALLY???? Is that all we sax players are to you????

Monday, September 21, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 83, PART II: Riptide? What riptide?

So good it warranted its own entry.

On Day 82, I pledged I'd return to Wood Neck Beach with Mini Me so she could enjoy the scenery that Soul Parents got to enjoy without her while playing wedding on Saturday, Day 81.

Day 83: A lesson in the foibles of expectation, and a reminder to enjoy things for what they are, the first time 'round:

I did return to that beach today, with Mini Me and some friends. Took the picture, just like I promised, yesterday.

Think it's cute? Hmph.

This photo does not accurately capture just how wide, deep, and fast moving that tidal river was.

That lovely river they are playing at the edge of was running at rip tide strength. The kids couldn't resist it, nor could their insane mothers, who waded with one child in each hand, straight into the torrent and crossed it. Jeans wet up to mid thigh. Heavy and soaked. Mini Me couldn't understand why mother wouldn't let her lay on belly in deep, fast moving river. Mother confronting serious "child disappears at sea" phobia. Child begins tantrum. Continues tantrum. And continues tantrum for entire visit to beach.

Our brave (and insane) heroines lead children back across dangerous tidal river. And directly to car. On the way, Mother, for some unexplained reason, starts retelling the story of The Secret of Roan Inish.

The vision of what that beach could be and what it actually was: very different. Wished I'd fully enjoyed it on the wedding day, rather than thinking that it would be so much nicer with Mini Me in tow. It wasn't. Go figure.

100 Days of Practice, Day 83: The Amazing Never-Slow-Downer

The Amazing Never-Slow-Downer. That's me. Move over, shareware, make way for the Tasmanian Jezebel. Actually, keep scootching over, because we've also got a new little devil to contend with. I shall call her Maxine.

Her sweet and sexy voice now silenced, Maxine is sleeping just inside our front door, in a curvy black box that smells like the floorboards of a historic house. Ah, to watch her rest. She is slim, sleek, and yet voluptuous. She sparkles in the light. She is a little brass monster. She is my new ball and chain. She is a euphonium.

Oh my GOD. Omigodomigodomigod. Oh. My. God. I have a new instrument to practice.

I promise to love her every day. I promise to post pictures. I promise to post audio.

Because life was too simple, with just the whistle, Irish flute, silver flute, alto sax, and baritone sax. Now, we have euphonium. We have Maxine.

Adore her. Love her while she lasts--for a day, or perhaps a week. At the very least, until she and I stand before our master in judgment, and together, deliver "Row Row Row Your Boat" in delightful unison, me sending the breath and pressing the valves, and she singing in her earthy baritone.

Presenting Maxine. They're so cute when they're little, no?:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 82: Scenes from Two Weddings and a Funeral

Why, hello. You're still here???? Good. I'm glad to see you.

I just got added to the "email notifications" for a friend's blog and, you know what? Getting a blog by email is not as fun as getting it online!!! No layout. No pretty color. Not the same! So, to prove how much nicer it is to visit a real Web page, I've put lots of photos in this one. TO make you come see the pretty site.

Thought I'd share a few scenes from a long but beautiful day yesterday... the Lindsays on a "Two Weddings and a Funeral" tour of southeastern Mass and Cape Cod. A twelve hour day, in which we experienced those most memorable and sacred moments: a friend's Dad's funeral... then played for two wedding ceremonies on the Cape, both on beaches. Gorgeous brides, both of them. Sweet husbands, both of them. Lots of love, all of them. The sacred purpose of the music, the beaches, and the amazing, gorgeous sun... lovely day but we did miss apple picking with our little one.

Here's Joy and Matt's wedding, at Wood Neck Beach in Falmouth (Steve finished the whole ceremony never having laid eyes on the bride, due to an inopportune seating arrangement):

Here are Erin and Cory, at Old Silver Beach:

Despite the nice musical experiences and the much-needed bank deposit at the end of the tour, we were tired, and really missed our gal. Gigs—even when they're for important occasions and also are with your husband—are not the same as "date day." But look at this photo. These kids were so cute while waiting for the bride's arrival that I had to snap a photo of them. On the next sunny day, I hereby make a pact to stage the same shot, but this time featuring Soul Papa and Mini Me.

This next one, however, you could not stage. Check out Soul Papa on his way to the ceremony site at the Seacrest on Old Silver Beach. Actually, once, a photographer did stage a similar shot of Steve, on a different Falmouth Beach, and he's been horrified about it ever since. That's Mr. Real for you. We swore we'd never, ever, ever let someone do that to us again—so when the opportunity to take this shot arose, my sense of humor wouldn't let me miss it, despite risking dropping two flutes while I bumbled through my pocketbook to get my camera, all of this while still walking—in heels, of course.

A long day, but important experiences, and we are thankful. The sun was shining today, too, and look what the heavens sent us. This little being visited our backyard. Life ain't so bad after all.

Friday, September 18, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 80: Making All the Big Things Little

Today, we explore the humor and wisdom of the ages.

Let us begin:

1. If a gig falls in the woods and there's no one there to play it, was there still a gig? Answer: Who cares? A gig has fallen in the woods. That's all.

2. Question: When is a gig just a gig? Answer. Every gig.

3. Question: Why did the musician cross the road? Answer: To get to the other gig.

4. Question: How many Irish bands does it take to play "The Wild Rover"? Answer: Apparently, all of them.

If you have sneefed une odeur du panique et angste (et Francaise tres mal, aussi) in the last two weeks, you have sneefed correctement. The chick just needs to chill.

Re-enter Pat the Fabulous. Remember her from Day 5?

Pat's sage advice, today:

1) Don't worry. The kids are alright.
2) Don't worry. Sometimes the gigging life will be incredibly ridiculously busy. Sometimes it won't.
3) Don't worry. This is who you are and what you do. It's okay.
4) Don't worry. Today is enough.
5) Give yourself some credit, for God's sake.

Some days all the big stuff becomes little again... bringing it right back to what it actually was in the first place.*** Thank heavens for sunshine, a balmy September day, and the music to be its effervescent soundtrack.


***Credit where credit is due: Why did everything big become small again? Action, of course, all before today's blog started. Solved the problems that had been floating out there and causing such anxiety: Late night gig is over, Mini Me unscathed and happy, safely delivered con smile, on time to preschool. Then, met a couple of unmet editing deadlines. Then spent time learning the tune I'm playing for a bride's processional tomorrow, and it was a piece of cake. Now practicing, because I CAN and because I WANT TO. And that is gorgeous. Action! Most times, that's all it takes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 79: Staying True

Yeah, I missed a couple days of blogging again, but not practicing. Day 77, Tuesday, was my weekly 12-hour day... All music teaching, all day. Only enough time for short practice sessions? Why, too busy with music?

When I was away from my desk the last couple of days, I had an insight. For a TRUE challenge, I could start another blog called "100 Days of Cleaning." Oh, now there's a serious issue. Fulfilling the 100 days would be just as challenging, but BONUS: no existential angst! Just quips about finding lost child in giant dust bunny, bemoaning dishpan hands, and sharing deep and meaningful quotes about toilet cleaners. Finally! The book idea that will be key to our family fortune.

From whence did such brilliance and inspiration come? Day 78, I looked back on the blogless Day 77 and realized that the lack of practice that I began this blog to fix is not due to lack of motivation or focus... it's due to lack of time. And I could apply that lack of time to several important issues. Chief among them: cleaning. Now, how about that.

I thought, but how was I spending my days before this momentous 100? Mostly raising a child, having a husband, and making a living. Not: watching TV, reading fabulous books, spending luxurious hours over cups of coffee with hubby, relaxing with family in hammock... and God no, not cleaning. Just, well, living. Doing laundry and procrastinating putting it away. Loading dishwasher and procrastinating emptying it when clean. Occasionally tidying up enough to make it through the living room without stumbling. But never, ever, ever dusting, and rarely relaxing. Puttering. And, well, not practicing.

So that was Day 77. A little insight, a little practice, but mostly making a living. Day 78? A short, intense practice, then Truro and P-Town all day, with Mini Me. In P-Town, bought a rubber duckie for Mini Me and a hand-cranked piggie flashlight for Big Me. That felt darned complete. When I said "more beach days" the other day, I meant it. Though the pebbly inside of the outer Cape isn't as lovely as the low crashing waves in Plymouth, there are days when it will do.

While sitting on that beach and watching Mini Me up to her knees in frigid water, my friend told me a story. A colleague of hers once described a weekend he'd had—said he'd spent it puttering around the house. Just doing stuff. He called it "God's plan": work all week and putter on weekends.

That might just be true. I returned from Truro at 9 pm, after a long day of puttering and not-practicing, thinking that maybe that really is the master plan. Simply, feeling relaxed. The house is still a mess. Whatever. We'll save that for the next 100 days.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 76: Way over the hump, now.

It's been three days since my last confession, Friend. I have so many sins to confess I don't know where to start. So, I'll save those for the book. For now, let's again focus on the joys.

The last week or so, and even moreso the last three days, have added up to one of those periods when you look at your professional life, and say, "All this work, so much stress, and for WHAT? Maybe I need to rethink the way I'm doing this career."

You see, this musical life. Like many jobs, it's a profession that's hard to leave at the office, because, well, you are the office— particularly if you are a person who always carries a cell phone. Which is just about everyone.

Yesterday: Noontime, realized I hadn't yet booked a babysitter for Thursday night's gig. A pub gig I wasn't enthused about and had sort of forgotten about, perhaps on purpose. A gig that had dropped very low in the priority list because the semester's start took over. When Soul Mama booked the gig, she didn't know that she would soon add two more courses to her workload. And besides, Soul Mama's been out four of seven nights a week due to gigs the last coupla weeks and this particular gig would take both Soul Mama and Soul Papa this time. Not good for Mini Me, in our estimation. So, while my conscious was figuring out how to manage a four-class semester at Bridgewater, my subconscious decided to ignore the gig and hope it would go away.

It didn't.

It came back, yesterday, around 12:00. And guess what that meant? 45 minutes of frantic phone calls, trying to find subs for the gig, all while Mini Me was persistently begging me to play horses. And in between the horse requests, the honest and hopeful request, of "Who's going to babysit me?" Aware of how this impacts her. I had planned to be a stay-at-home Mom, and while reality intervened with that fantasy, reality does no good to assuage guilt.

Heartrate up, stomach in knot, no solution for Thursday night. So I said, "F(*&$% it," (not out loud), packed our buckets and spades, put on a swimsuit, and took Mini Me to the beach. Turned off the phone. Hit the waves, and slowly, glory descended on a sunbeam. The two of us spent three hours at the ocean's edge letting the warm September waves crash over us, filling buckets with wet cold sand, laughing, and playing ring-around-the-rosie in the surf. Ah, glorious, glorious sunny September afternoon. We came home, jumped in the tub, ate hot dogs, and then when Soul Papa got home, I left for class, where I proceeded to learn how to make bumblebee sounds into a trombone mouthpiece. (Sorry, that had to be my practice for the day. Full disclosure here.)

Driving home, I heard an interview with the editor of Ted Kennedy's autobiography, True Compass, which was just released yesterday. In that book, Teddy wrote about the meaning of the sea. He said that the ocean is where religion, spirituality and the physical all come together.

Yes. I thought back to the day at the beach and realized it was one of those days I'll never forget. The intimacy of just spending a few hours alone with my favorite wee one, the phone off, the world far away. A place where I could pause long enough to hear the voice of the eternal, the ephemeral.

Healing--and far more important than a nighttime pub gig. There just may be a lot more beach days and a lot fewer nighttime pub gigs on the Lindsays' itinerary in days to come. So... perhaps you will join us for our last one for the foreseeable future: The Snug, Hingham, MA, Halfway to St. Pat's Party, starting around 9sih... :)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 73: When we redefine practice.

The Wicked Witch of the Inside says:

"No time to practice? Why, because, in just the last two days, you have had two classes to teach, three courses to edit, one chapter to provide feedback on, a tune to transcribe, a couple contracts to send, and three gigs? And one three year old? No time to practice? Preposterous! What is wrong with you?"

Well, for one, I am tired. That's definitely wrong.

For two, I am blogging when I should be sleeping. That, also, is wrong.

But other than that... many things are right.

Just experienced two incredibly tired days, wracked with fatigue-induced self doubt, yet three of the most wonderful gigs I've played in a long time. Some math doesn't add up.

Yesterday, it was a 20 min performance with Caravan at a Ramadan observance feast at Bridgewater. At the end of our last tune, I had had so much fun playing that my heart was jumping out of my chest and my hands were shaking. I believe they call that adrenalin. God bless music. They gave us a standing ovation.

From there, Soul Mama raced to Falmouth for a jazz big band gig with Stage Door Canteen. It was uproariously fun.

Then tonight! A gig at the Wilbur Theater on Tremont Street in Boston. Someone did my makeup for the gig. The hell with the music, SOMEONE DID MY MAKEUP. A professional. Have I arrived? No, but wow, it was so neat to have a full staff of event coordinators, a personal monitor, impeccable sound, a dressing room, fancy schmancy lighting, and a full house. And a terrific band to play with.

This event was a 9/11 memorial, featuring singer Pauline Wells, who is a policewoman and detective in Cambridge. I was fortunate enough to join the backing band, Devri, a wonderful collection of souls I am so glad to have met. Among them: Declan Houton, Kevin Uh-oh (that's English for Gan Ainm) on fiddle, Larry Flint on bass, Steve O'Shaugnessy on drums, Chuck the Man (also Gan Ainm) on guitar, and Caroline O'Shea on whistle, alongside the Boston Gaelic Pipe Column, and the NYPD Emerald Society Pipe Band. Singers Wendy, Kathy... and an incredible pianist. Some names escape me (it's a tired thing).

Drove home in the rain, at midnight, blind behind crappy wipers. That part wasn't fun, but I'm here now and so happy to know that the two people I love most are sleeping peacefully upstairs. And I get to join them... right... after... this... beer.

Hm. Can we redefine practice to be not the physical act of repeating scales for an hour, but rather, to at least sometimes be the metaphysical experience of living a life of one's passion? That's a practice in itself. Not enough for every day, but more than enough for today.

It seems to come back to this, always: Music is a blessing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 71: Peig has thrown down the gauntlet.

I sat down to write for the sake of writing, with trust that something meaningful would come if I just babbled long enough.. then, I told myself, I can delete the first 30 babbled paragraphs, and start the published version of today's blog at the point where I finally arrived at something worth reading. That was the plan. But then I read Peig's post. Bingo. (A more discriminating writer would actually erase THIS paragraph, but alas... babble does have its charm.)

Peig's compelling question: If this traditional music has been played so beautifully for so many generations by people who were not formally musically trained--why even try to improve on it? Why "move it forward," so to speak...?

The answer, of course, is context. Tradition needs context to survive. Musicians imbue the "old" traditional music with "new" meaning in its contemporary context, and suddenly everything old is new again, and the kids like it. This was one of the strands of meaning in my book See You at the Hall, and it is of continuing interest to me. And it will be one of the strands in my forthcoming book (oh yes, there is one coming, and I'm just awaiting the contract in the mail... stay tuned).

To quote myself in that first book (I like the sound of that, "first..."), in an inspired moment at the book's conclusion: "What is really meant by the term 'traditional,' then? It certainly does not mean static and unchanging; a tradition that does not evolve will quickly become extinct."

"Evolve" is the key word here. Slow transformation, adaptation, but unlike Darwin's evolution where fish turn into amphibians turn into dinosaurs turn into apes turn into Republicans (okay, okay, I admit it, I did watch Obama's speech before practicing), for a tradition to evolve, the animal can't change. Tradition must still keep key aspects of the same animal. Gills must remain as gills. They can't turn into lungs, or we've lost the tradition.

So, how does the music evolve while keeping the elements that define it, yet also absorb the new so that it is meaningful in its current context? And how much can we infuse our own experiences and our own extramusical influences into the way we play traditional music, while still preserving the sanctity of the tradition from which it comes?

That's a question I didn't bother to ask myself just now, when I was practicing Arabian scales and improvised licks over Flamenco chord progressions... on the soprano sax... but those practices were for just two thirds of a three-piece concert I'll be performing in to observe Ramadan tomorrow night at Bridgewater State College. This is a short concert with Caravan, a world music trio made up of Bridgewater faculty Tom Rhode on guitar, Salil Sachdev on percussion, and me on flute and sax. The third piece we'll be playing tomorrow is an Irish traditional reel that Matt Molloy recorded so beautifully: "The Tempest." Tom's guitar style is classical in orientation but heavily inspired by the Afro-Brazilian tradition, and Salil is originally from India, classically trained, but now primarily focused on African drumming styles. So, needless to say, when we do "The Tempest" we don't do it just according to one tradition. Three, and many more, traditions also feed into our rendition. We start the tune very slowly, with a fragmented melody... then slowly the melody falls together and we speed the tempo until it's at a fever pitch. Then we end.

How much of the Irish tradition will be left in that piece? A lot. Yeah, but is it Irish? Yes, no. Maybe. Why ask? I think I smell an ape with gills.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 70: The New Year Begins, again

I didn't think that Fall kept a Blackberry, but I'm sure glad it checked its calendar and arrived on Sept 1. What a gorgeous weekend. Yet, here--and not outside the normal range of abnormality--it's all a flurry.

Labor Day weekend for the Lindsays was friendly activity, four sunny hours in the Boston Public Gardens with the best two littlest Lindsays on the planet, and home catch-up, but just as important, it included a little forward planning: practice aimed toward the Lindsays' CD #2, to be recorded in October... and for that, we pull out the old but never tired motto:

Less is more.

In oh so many ways. Except not in sleep, where more definitely is more. But less is usually more often.

Awake since 3:00 am today, so allow this blog to simply say: Still alive. Still playing. A little tired.

Friday, September 4, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 66: Reality check.

This morning I decided to stop into my local microbrew java joint to caffeinate and ruminate... sketch out the to-do list for this morning's work, and brainstorm a little about today's blog topic. There are enough writable experiences in every day to create several blog entries; sometimes it's necessary to sit down and figure out which one will be funniest, most interesting, most universal.

High on the list was whining about my beginning of semester cold, and yesterday's coffee shop experience. The Coffee Dudes there said they had voted me "their favorite housewife"--i.e., chick with kids who spends half of her weekly income on coffee. I was going to write about identity crisis... I see myself as Musician/Writer. My students see me as Professor. The Coffee Dudes see me as Housewife. I love it. Gimme my apron, NOW.

One of the Dudes wasn't there today. That's normal. He runs the joint; he's got stuff to do. He's not always in. Didn't think much of it. Ordered my coffee, sat down and started journalizing. But then Coffee Dude 2 woke me out of my trance. "Um, Sue...," he said, tentatively. I looked up, wondering, "Why the long face?"

He didn't know how to start. I thought he was going to ask us about maybe playing in there some Sunday. But no, that wasn't it. It turns out that last night, the Grand Pooba Coffee Dude, the shop owner, had gotten into a head-on collision at highway speed, with his wife (good friend of mine) and 3-yr-old son (Mini Me's best buddy) in the car. A (#$*&#$ drunk driver had crossed over into their lane, and drove straight into them.

Suddenly, nothing is funny anymore.

They're okay. If you consider some a night in the hospital, broken bones, stitches, a totaled car, and childhood trauma as okay. It's not okay. Neither is drunk driving.

Identity, practice, whatever. Sometimes the hand of the universe reaches down to shake our shoulder and wake us up. If we may revisit my initial blog entry on this 100 days, when I wondered what I might be at the end of 100 days—"Buddhette, Beer Drinker, or Butt-kicker"—I think it's fair to say that I've now crossed Option #2 off the list. And if I run into that drunk driver, I'd be happy to assume the role of Option #3.

Good day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 64: Double-digit deflation.

My buddy Tom, a guitar player, yesterday asked me if I was still doing the 100 days. Yes, I said, raising my arms in a "whoo-hoo" arc of triumph. "But I did take yesterday off. My hands hurt." Innocently, he replied, "Yeah, I remember a few years back I went a couple of years without missing a day."

Insert deflation sound here.

I said, "Well, what about when you have a gig? Do you still practice on those days?"

We know the response, right?: "Oh, yes. Those days I practice even harder, working on what I'm going to perform at the gig."

Deflation continues.

Then, he went on to tell me how last week, he'd been in a hotel with his family of four, and still managed to practice just about every day, including a session in the subway, where he made a grand total of 50 cents.

<...and continues...>

Tom is the man. A nearly impeccable player with a performance master's degree from New England Conservatory. People like Tom make you look at your measly 100 days and say, "Big deal." Then again, Tom's playing in a group with me, so how bad?

Looks like the 100 may need to start from the beginning again, when it's done.

I always liked this quote: "When you catch the bus, you can stop running." Problem is, with music, the bus is always just over the next hill. There's always something to move forward to, good enough is never enough.

And for that, we can be very, very thankful. Otherwise, why would we bother?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 63: Keep the crown. It's okay.

Took Monday off. It was the last day of August, the official end of summer for me, and I'm all for standing at attention while it passes in its flag-draped box.

Monday capped a weekend of much musical activity, but when I look back on the last weekend of summer 2009, I will think of incredible paella and Kennedy.

Paella? I didn't tell you that Saturday's gig included a fresh seafood dinner? Standing in the buffet line in front of the most gigantic wok of paella I have ever seen in my life (sledding for four!) I clasped my hands together, looked to heaven, and said out loud, "Thank you, God, for music."

It nearly overshadowed how I'd spent the day: glued to the TV set with hubby and Mini Me, watching Kennedy's funeral. I wasn't quite prepared for the number of questions a three-year-old would ask during the less-than-riveting programming.

Waiting for the motorcade the day before had been easy: "What are we doing, Mommy?" "We're waiting for the important man to come in the black car." Once the black cars came and passed, questions ended. We moved on to the carousel at the mall.

But when it was four hours of programming and a flag-draped box, the questions were persistent and pointing. I decided to err on the side of honesty.

MM: "Where is the important guy, mommy?"

S: "He's in the box."

MM: "Why is he in the box, mommy?"

S: "Well... he died."

MM: "Why was he so important?"

S: "He did a lot of things to help people."

MM: "Where is he?"

S: "Right there, in that box."

MM: "But why is he in the box?"

S: "He died."

MM: "Did he die?"

S: "Yes, he died."

MM: "But why did he die?"

S: "He was very sick."


MM: "I get sick sometimes."


S: "He was VERY sick. And old."

MM: "Old like nana?"

S: "No, much older. Sometimes old people get very sick and they don't get better."

MM: "Can I have chocolate?"

And so it went. A long day. It takes something rather significant to get me to sit down for more than ten minutes, and this one was hours--evidence enough that something was different this time. And it left its impression on the smallest member of our household.

The next morning, Mini Me's first request: "Mommy, can we watch the show about the dead guy again?"

We spent the rest of Sunday in our musty, messy basement, attacking clutter. Mini Me was playing quietly on her own in a newly cleared space, when I walked in to find her standing at attention, staring intently at the washing machine. I asked her what she was doing.

MM: "I'm playing highway. Wanna play?" she said, not moving.

S: "How do you play highway?"

Still standing at attention and staring straight ahead, she said, "You stand here like this and wait for the black car."


Of course, while I was going ga-ga over the funeral, skeptics in our midst were shrugging. "Hmph. Kennedy. No saint."

To be sure, to be sure. But if death can be the great leveler, perhaps it gives us the chance to balance and forgive... and it's far simpler to forgive Kennedy than to forgive the other contentious figure who died this summer.

I visited Wikipedia to see how sainthood is defined.

The anthropologist [3] Lawrence Babb in an article about Sathya Sai Baba asks the question "Who is a saint?", and responds by saying that in the symbolic infrastructure of some religions, there is the image of a certain extraordinary spiritual king's "miraculous powers", and to whom frequently a certain moral presence is attributed. These saintly figures, he asserts, are "the focal points of spiritual force-fields," exerting "powerful attractive influence on followers but touch the inner lives of others in transforming ways as well."[4]

I admit it, I'm from Massachusetts, which automatically qualifies me to recognize the Emperor's new clothes. But when a person's public accomplishments can far outweigh personal transgressions, if political ends can sometimes justify the means... then I'm all for letting him keep his golden halo.