Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Clarinet Player Next Door

Last May when I visited California with my Mom and two Grandparents we stayed a few days at the Holiday Inn in Atascadero visiting family.  Those mornings were very relaxed.  The first morning we didn't even leave the hotel until noon, sleeping in to get much needed rest.

Around 11:00 am we suddenly started hearing a clarinet, scales and patterns up and down octaves, played masterfully.  The next morning we heard the same player, this time just past 9 am, and this happened again the last day when we checked out.  On the final day when I heard the music I went into the hall, walked a few steps, and placed my ear to the door, hearing the metronome change BPM with each exercise.

All they did was play a variety of scales.  No score.  No solo pieces.  Just scales.

And honestly I found it very inspiring hearing their motivation.  Playing, even in a hotel room, waiting until after 9 in the morning to lessen the bother of other hotel guest.  It didn't bother me at all.  It brought me back to my time in college when I would go to the Harris Fine Arts Center basement, passing multiple practice rooms, searching for one that was empty, all while hearing a cacophony of instruments and vocalist.  Only this time, last May, it was the sweet line of a clarinet.  The only sound it was fighting against was that of the TV in our room.

It inspired me, because I struggle with practicing.  I really don't like it.  Terrible!!  I know.  But playing scales and random pieces to increase my piano skills is something I have a hard time with.  Technically I should be practicing everyday, but I don't.  And here was a clarinetist playing, on vacation, making sure to get in their practice hours.

A month or so ago my brother Michael recommended my siblings and I all read The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner.  It's available for free on the Audible App for Prime members.  As I listened  there was one quote that really stood out:

"Progress is a natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything.  When you stay on purpose, focused in the present moment, the goal comes towards you with friction-less ease.  However, when you constantly focus on the goal you're aiming for, you push it away instead of pulling it towards you.  In every moment that you look at the goal and compare your position to it, you affirm to yourself that you haven't reached it.  In reality, you need to acknowledge the goal only occasionally, using it as a rudder to keep you moving in the right direction."

The whole book is really good.  He talks about being in the moment when practicing.  Don't self criticize.  Don't berate.  Be present.  And this is something I struggle with.  When I practice I scold myself for not being more advanced, for getting something wrong, and instead of this helping me, it hinders, and I don't progress.  

After listening to this book I reevaluated the way I practice.  I'm going to finish the Noona piano book series, which I started as a kid.  Learn Jazz piano and study Haydn.  Practice scales and chords.  But really, this quote, and all the things I've been thinking about, applies to so many things in my life, not just music.  Really I need to just be in the moment.  Look to the future, but don't stress over it.  Learn from the past, but don't repeat it.  Be in the moment and focus on what I can control, instead of worrying over what I cannot.

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