Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Music, Society, and The Process­­­™

Sitting on the bus, a fellow rider notices my book. It's not the commuter's typical fiction to pass the time or the newspaper to avoid the gazes; rather, it's bluegrass sheet music, different enough to catch his eye.

"Do you play?"

Not so many years ago, this would have been an incomprehensible situation. If I was a master of anything, it was the art of invisibility: Moving through groups unnoticed, shunting undue attention, guarding intention, keeping secrets, operating within shadows. It becomes a strongly habitual mode of operating, affecting every experience, every encounter.

Instantly there is the sense of threat...
... but then I remember:

It was only this spring when I had the sense that we needed more music.  I don't mean more concerts up the block at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, nor do I mean more offerings at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall or the Lyric Opera House either--though all of those things are lovely. What I mean is that we need more people learning and playing together in the local parks, around the coffee shops, in rooms at the libraries, on the patios and porches, at the end of the cul-de-sacs, ... It's a vision where you're as likely to see someone out in public carrying an instrument as staring at a smartphone.

How will that vision ever happen if I am not a part of it, not communicating it?

The instinctual response that I've practiced would not serve me here. It was bad enough that that I was exposed in tight quarters with a book that might draw attention--a major transgression of obscurity; now I'd have to decide to go further, to override my "better judgement" on an entirely new level.

His name was David. When not at the office, he loves playing piano. 
We chat now when we see each other on the bus.

Similar "changes" occurred along the way, both before and afterward. In one moment I was someone with little knowledge of music and without an instrument, and in the next I was a fellow with a mandolin in hand and scheduled lessons. The low priority idle time I had to myself became daily practice time. Inconspicuous appearances in public remained inconspicuous, though now sometimes with a gig bag strapped over my shoulder... and sometimes when I'm sitting down, I'll open that bag to take out my song book... and sometimes when my songbook is out, I'll take out the mandolin too... and sometimes I'll play... sometimes not so inconspicuously.

It's all an affront to that well trained aspect of me that maintains the status quo, and it's an unspeakable offense to the perfectionist in me to look and to sound foolish in public... How much easier it would be if the way I saw the world was already "normal"?

I wonder how many other people might begin if they didn't feel alone, 
if they didn't think of themselves as unusual,  
if only someone else would be the first?

Suddenly, you realize that you are that person... and you're way behind on doing your part to move that vision you've been given forward.

To create an environment where it's easy and comfortable for anyone to try, to practice, to play at any level, to be welcome among others, the first step may be to recognize your belief that it is not--then check where that idea came from. To date, beyond an occasional eye roll from people who "know better," the only resistance that I've actually had to opening the bag and pulling out the mandolin has been my own.

David wasn't the first or the last I've met this way...
Who knows how the ripples will cascade?

Let's stop here for now--there's a lot to digest--and let's add an admin note or two:
  1. I'm adding a placeholder tab at the top of the blog labeled "Columbia Bluegrass" to keep notes, links, and so forth about this local musical practice--particularly for those who are interested in examining this as a group exercise in Applied Zen.
  2. Maybe it's just blathering about personal experience, or maybe it's instruction and blueprints to change your world--I suppose that's up to you. Regardless, expect to see more posts on the topic here in the future. Feel free to enjoy them on whatever levels you like.
  3. As usual, bonus points for anyone who can identify the koan within the post!