A few hours of recommended staring-at-sky-and-clouds time yesterday left me wondering why I make music.
Listening is easy; it’s never further than an arm’s reach away and it does not compel unbroken engagement. But making music absolutely demands that one set aside a chunk of distraction-free time; if the mind strays, the effort becomes a house of cards crashed by an out-of-control 2-year-old.
In a world that demands constant multitasking, focusing on just one thing is a challenge. It’s even more daunting after a long workday or when surrounded by a young family.
So, for an amateur, making music is first and foremost an act of will.
Like the vast majority of people who grow up with childhood music lessons and just enough ability to consider a possible professional career, I have done other things with my life. But I’ve kept making music as an aside, mainly by working as the music director in church. Initially as a 17-year-old, I took it on out of curiosity, then it was for the money.
Now, it guarantees a minimum contact with the real, difficult act of making rather than just consuming music.
My friends read and lounge and brunch on Sunday mornings. In the summer, they overnight at their or someone else’s cottage. I could, too, my non-churchgoing partner gently reminds me.
I try to set aside an hour’s practice time every day. That’s nothing for a professional, but it’s just enough to get me by. The accumulated hours are enough to get me into communion with something far, far greater than my self.
I’m pretty sure this feeling comes from the same endocrine elixir that keeps marathon runners and mountain climbers glued to their passions.
It may even be similar to what people call being addicted to love.
One perfect summer afternoon not that long ago, a friend and I were listening to Richard Strauss as we gently rocked in hammocks on his flower-bedecked terrace. At one point, he lamented how the throes of passionate love get blunted with age; that it becomes more and more difficult to feel as deeply, to soar as ecstatically, to reduce the rest of the universe to a speck of dust when facing the object of one’s infatuation.
I responded that if we went through life on this kind of rollercoaster, we would eventually go mad.
Yesterday’s sunny sky reminded me that I do feel deeply, soar ecstatically and reduce the universe to a speck of dust — in those transcendent moments when a piece of music has come alive through my exertions and will, either alone or when playing or singing with others.
Unlike making love, it takes years of practice and preparation to reach this state. That can be dicouraging.
On the other hand, once you get there, the act of making music rarely lets you down. It becomes self-sustaining, hopefully for life.
I wondered what this sort of special communion between soul and music would sound like to someone else. So, to illustrate, here is French pianist Anne Queffélec playing George Frideric Handel — not an obvious choice, perhaps, but one that works for me in my one-on-one time with the keyboard.
Here she is in the Keyboard Suite No. 6, from Handel’s first collection, in F-sharp minor, HWV 431: