I really can pick snappy titles, can’t I?
This latest missive is based around a few observations that keep repeating in my day-to-day existence: the most common being dissatisfaction from friends and colleagues about their professional lot; we all manage to find an example of a schedule that would be perfect if we just had that one thing.
I’m sure we can all relate to this: imagine a schedule completely packed to the rafters with gigs – everyday a new challenge, constantly working with different people all over the place. Idyllic, no? I’m sure, as wind-swept musicians we’ve all wanted a timetable a bit like that.
But you get stuck in, and after a week, you yearn for the schedule of last month – why, I had so much time to practise! I could really have sorted out that tricky unison passage back then – and you feel encumbered by the workload without any time to yourself to actually get to grips with the material at hand.
So you eke out your time in the gigs, silently cursing the lack of time you have for woodshedding; every fluffed note a sharp nudge in the musical ribs; the tension in the picking hand becoming the twinge of the negative feedback loop engaging just like it did yesterday; that slightly dodgy vibrato whispering that “you really should have warmed up properly before changing into your concert blacks, instead of winging it like you’ve done every night this week…”
So the anticipated day arrives – tour over, goodbyes said, farewell drinks imbibed and hastily regretted. A day or two of recuperation allowed to reaclimatise to ‘real life’; then the diary is cleared while the kettle boils, and the excitement is palpable – today is the day! I can finally iron out all the creases in my technique! Sort out my sight-reading! Think of all the transcriptions I can finish – I can master slide guitar now! You change the batteries in your metronome and dig out your music stand.
Idealism is a fragile thing, beautiful when young – and it’s always sad to see reality catch up with it, as reality inevitably does.
Give it a month. A month of no gigs – of empty calenders; long walks in the park; hours spent practising, preparing for…what?
Soon the urge to be back on the stage – treading the boards, rocking the populace – is overwhelming.
“Finally, I can play that 3-note-per-string pentatonic phrase at 180bpm, can solo over ‘All the Things You Are’ and play slide guitar more hauntingly than Derek Trucks. But who can hear me?”
And we’re into the long, lonely irregular see-saw period.
We can find examples of the ‘see-saw period’ in everyday life, not just that of a musician. In relationships, in holidays and travel, in sports training – we crave variety. It’s nice to be social, and surrounded by people – but don’t you sometimes wish you could be alone once in a while? And so the folklore saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ is trotted out with blithe regularity.
But it’s not idealism of the alternative that should be encouragement – but instead a regular alternation of activities and situations. It may seem obvious, but the grass won’t always be greener. I’m not saying to avoid striving for greater things – but instead to appreciate the linearity of life. Enjoy the illusive, peripheral nature of the perfect state – and carry on doing your thing, striving to muster all your efforts to doing your task to the best of your abilities. Apply the downward thrust with conviction, and the see-saw will move. Once up, don’t fight it – let gravity take over, and repeat. Don’t stay stranded at the bottom of the arc, moping about missed opportunities.
Don’t go searching for the elusive pastures – celebrate the movements of your time on the see-saw.
Embrace the differences – they give meaning to what we’d otherwise call the mundane.