Definitions

Posted January 22, 2017 by halfnotes
Categories: Blindness, piano, spirituality, teaching, Uncategorized

First, thanks to everyone who read yesterday, and I know someone did …

I’ve had this site a long time, and a lot has changed in the duration. I started thinking about definitions, who we say we are, what we think is the “core” of who we are.

As I said yesterday, I work in an office now five, sometimes six days a week. I never thought I’d do that. I thought I would always be able to define myself as “concert pianist” or “piano teacher”. Perhaps I still can because I still do those things. But they aren’t what I do for most of my waking hours anymore.

Sometimes this makes me sad. We make choices because we must always do that. Consider: We have the choice, every day, to get out of bed or not. Really! It’s just that most of us, most of the time, just get up without thinking we’re choosing.

So we choose, and maybe a way down the road we think: “Man, I wish I could go back.”

We can’t, not in the way we think we want to. We’ve changed. I’ve changed. At least for the foreseeable future, because of the choices I have made, I will not be flying overseas to play concerts. I won’t be driving cross-country to exhibit dairy goats. I won’t be learning to shoot from a dear friend in Kansas. (Wait, what?!) OK, I better explain that.

Some people, including me, thought this lady was crazy to teach a totally blind person to shoot. Well, she started. She did the most important part, teaching how to handle a gun safely. Her son was the one who actually taught me to shoot. And now that I’ve done it once, I have no desire to do it again. I know I could if I had to. And I know she wasn’t crazy. She just believed so entirely in my capability as a human being that she didn’t even think twice about teaching me what anyone else would have wanted to learn.

She, more than anyone, exemplifies what I’m trying to say. She didn’t see blindness as my defining characteristic, even if it did have an impact on how I did (and do) a lot of things. She remade me as a pianist, stripping away my whole technique and building it over into something better. Do I wish I was playing more piano these days? Definitely! Will I always have such a crazy schedule that I can’t? Probably not.

So: Our lives are like books. There are chapters. They’re all connected because they’re part of the book. In some cases, our book might seem like more of a collection of short stories. But they’re all connected. The “I” is what connects them, unifies them. The same “I” that kept goats is the same “I” that sits at a desk most weekdays in a downtown office building. The same “I” that went down a spiral staircase in a Prague cathedral doubled over in laughter at my brother’s monkey screeches that frightened a gaggle of British tourists is the same “I” who kept a promise to a friend that she would not die alone in a hospital or a nursing home.

That “I” isn’t something that can be put into words. It’s just the outward circumstances that can be enumerated.

My circumstances now are that I fit my music-making and music teaching into the spaces left after the full-time office thing is done. And on that note I’ll close. I’ve got a bunch of students coming in less than two hours to study for upcoming music exams. We’re going to have a contest to see how many different scales they know. It should be a blast. (Wait, what?!) Yeah, I know, scales aren’t “supposed” to be fun. Well, that’s just the stereotype. But that’s a subject for another post.

New Words for a New Year

Posted January 21, 2017 by halfnotes
Categories: healing arts, spirituality

Tags: , ,

I haven’t written for ages here. Life became very busy–new job, less time at home–and a lot of things got put aside. Music was one, writing another. But working in an office every day, I find that my creative spirit needs exercise, otherwise it shrivels up and something happens to my heart …

So once again, I try to begin. I must play the music I can find time for and appreciate the people who play with me. I can strive to write more, put my thoughts down in some concrete form. Sure, everybody is doing it these days. The noise level is astounding! And who am I to think I have anything important to say to anyone else?

Well, I’m safe on that score! I only have my own experiences and perspective to draw on. But we’re all human beings sharing a seemingly shrinking planet. Too often, it feels to me like everyone is yelling louder and louder in an effort to convince anyone within earshot (including themselves) that they’re right.

We all have the capacity to be right or wrong, just as we all have the capacity to treat each other with gentleness. One can be civil without having to agree with someone. One can be compassionate without saying one condones another’s actions or decisions. One can listen instead of always trying to speak.

If we–and in that pronoun I’m including myself as the first person being addressed–would all do a bit more of these things, perhaps the rhetoric wouldn’t reach such a fever pitch. Conversations could occur. Compromises aren’t always comfortable because everyone is giving ground. But this is where I think we all must begin each day, even if we fall short by the second hour of our time awake (or earlier, as when I react with irritation to some small thing my partner does or says or neglects to do or say).

So I begin again today. It’s evening here in the northeastern United States, but it’s morning somewhere else on earth. Every moment in our lives can be counted as the first moment of something. This can bring a keen sense of renewal and refreshment. It doesn’t absolve one of past mistakes. But it does open the way for trying again. Compassion for others must begin with compassion for oneself. If I can’t give myself a second or fifth or hundredth chance, how can I do so for another?

If you are still reading, may you feel that renewal yourself. It is a small thing, not a all-encompassing sweeping away. But in the quiet I am trying to cultivate, the small things are just as profound and majestic and lovely as the grand ones.

Back in the Saddle

Posted June 16, 2014 by halfnotes
Categories: Blindness

It’s been a long time …

I’ve lost many things over the past few years, including my way, but I’ve also figured out that the only way to begin again is to take one step at a time. so …

 

I am beginning again today. The newest project for me is a novel, or rather, a series of them. I’ve just finished the whatevereth draft of the first book, and other than being exhausted and not wanting to look at another quotation mark, semicolon, or anything beginning with “Chapter …”, I’m pleased with the progress.

 

So what? Who cares? … Indeed! But over the next few months, be prepared for a wild ride–I never thought I could put so many words one behind the other and still like my story and my characters at “The End”.

 

Join me next time–which I promise won’t be five years from now!–and I’ll let you peek in on “Tomorrow’s Odyssey, Book 1: Daughters of North Point.”

 

Thank you so much for reading.

Peace of the Sunday Morning Stable

Posted March 23, 2009 by halfnotes
Categories: Dogs, Family and Friends, goats, healing arts, psychology, spirituality

I spent the weekend at my parents’ home, the place I grew up in. They were out of town, visiting a brother of mine.

Life this time of year can be stressful for everyone, because it seems that everything is due “right now”–taxes, forms, insurance payments, reports, results.

Lately, I’ve gotten so caught up in all the tasks I think I have to do that I’ve let the time for quietness get pushed dangerously low. This, I think to myself, will help me get more done, and then I’ll feel better.

But it only makes me feel more frantic, and then I get less done, and feel worse!

On Sunday morning, I did chores by myself. My younger sister was at home, too–she’s still in high school, but she’s an accomplished horsewoman, and the mantle of caregiver has been passed from me to her.

I grew up among goats–milking, delivering babies, bringing in hay, walking pastures. Someday, I tell myself, I may return to it, because it is a life of hard work, but it is also one of intense peacefulness, deep connection to the land and the animals. There is no escaping the spirituality of seeing a creature born, or of standing beside one as it breathes its last. Among the goats, beneath the open sky, you can’t hide from what’s in your heart and mind.

There was no milking to be done this weekend, and there were three horses where there had once been only one. There were two newish barn cats, Pickles and Pepperoni, who had arrived feral and were now all too anxious to twine themselves between your legs as you walked, demanding to be picked up and petted.

It’s amazing: If an animal knows it is wanted, loved, and cared for, fear gradually subsides and is replaced by an abiding trust.

I saw this firsthand with my dogs, Kiefer and Ecko, who each came to me a bit mistrustful of people, but who are both totally devoted to me. Kiefer, at 15, doesn’t follow me around everywhere anymore. His hearing is failing, so he won’t respond if I just call him. But when he wants me, he wants to be right close by, where he can smell me and feel my presence.

As for Ecko, he’s the follower now, the watcher. Wherever I am, he wants to be, especially if the surroundings are out of the ordinary. And he knows my emotional weather better than anyone. He won’t let me get away with leaving things in my heart unexamined. He’ll lean his head against me, then his whole body, and he’ll demand that I first pay attention to him, and then sort out my own internal ambiguities.

Anyway, there was deep healing and comfort for me in the barn yesterday morning. The goats bleated to me and stood up with their front legs on the fence rail, craning their necks to be petted, nuzzling me for kisses, even though I’d just filled their manger.

The horses whinnied to me and kicked up their heels on the way out to pasture–luckily, I was behind a stall door, well away from their friskiness.

The cats meowed at me until I fed them, ate their fill, and came and meowed some more, just to let me know they were still there.

I stayed out there until my hands were good and frosty and I was certain I’d begin to make the people in the house wonder if I’d gotten into trouble. On my way out, I made sure to pet every four-legged creature and thank them for their attention.

It’s Monday morning, and I can think of a long list of things I really have to do–taxes, bills, reports. None of it thrills me, but all of it is necessary.

But just for a bit longer, I’ll stay here, quiet and still, and savor the peace of the Sunday morning stable.

True Intent

Posted March 22, 2009 by halfnotes
Categories: Bach, Chopin, Dogs, Family and Friends, metaphysics, music, piano, psychology, spirituality, Sports

I was studying my Chopin recital program this afternoon, minding my own business, savoring the Sarabande from Bach’s English Suite No. 5 as played by Andras Schiff. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful dance in the suite, with plenty of room for expressiveness. I haven’t started to learn notes for it myself yet–I’m still somewhere about halfway through the previous dance, the Courante.

But ever since the first time I listened through this program, I’ve had a special affinity for the Sarabande. It feels very intuitive to me, as if it just floated out of my mind and materialized before me without any interference or effort. I feel as if I’ve already played it, and every harmonic turn holds a feeling of nostalgia.

It’s an easy piece for me to get drawn into, lose myself, and leave all the mundane stuff of life behind. It’s meditative, contemplative music, and I want to savor every moment of it.

I was drifting in that peaceful place, my mind free and open, enjoying every note when–

“TRUUUUUUE INTENT!”

A voice came blasting into my thoughts, completely shattering the tranquility.

“What the hell was that?” I thought. The phrase was odd, and had absolutely nothing to do with anything. “OK, I must just be tired, and my mind is playing–”

“TRUUUUUUUUUUUUUE INTENT!!!”

“Oh, come on, concentrate,” I told myself. “This is good practice for distractions during your recitals next year. You never know what–”

“TRUUUUUUUUUUE INTENT! TRUE INTENT IS THE SPLIT SECOND BEFORE THE PERSON MOVES. THAT IS THE KEY TO EVERYTHING! TELL HIM!”

It was as if a bright orange splotch had suddenly appeared while I was looking at a delicate watercolor print of fog rising off a lake at dawn. I wasn’t really alarmed–I didn’t think I was “hearing voices” in the clichéd way that people do in movies when they’re losing their minds. I’d received too many messages from the universe, and I figured this was just another one.

“Crap,” I muttered, and started the track on the CD from the beginning again. It was getting harder to ignore whoever was saying this stuff. I was still going over these things in my mind when the voice broke in again.

“TELL HIM! TELL HIM TRUE INTENT IS THE KEY!”

“I’ll do it later–I’m sure I won’t forget.” I was getting annoyed. I’d had a weekend away from home, hadn’t had time to sit at the piano, and today, at about one, I’d finally had a few moments to listen to my practice disc. And now, the dogs were resting quietly, my husband was reading, and I was–

“TELL HIM NOW! YOU HAVE TO TELL HIM RIGHT NOW!”

“Fine,” I said internally, and then, because I figured that part of the message was in the delivery, I shouted:

“TRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUE INTENT!”

Ah, that felt better, even if I had no idea what I was talking about. (“I don’t have to understand it–I only work here!”)

“What?” My husband was perhaps just as surprised to have his wife blurt something random while he was trying to read.

“You know your Daitoryu?”

“Yeah. What about it?”

“Apparently, I’m supposed to tell you that true intent is something that comes a fraction of a second before someone moves. And it’s the key to everything.”

“How do you know that?”

To put it charitably, the only thing I know about martial arts is how to spell “martial arts”. It would be like my husband, a non-musician whose background is in engineering, computers, and, at least lately, shiatsu and Oriental medicine, giving me a twenty-minute dissertation on the evolution and execution of mordents in Baroque music.

“I don’t know anything. But while I was listening to this Bach Sarabande, someone kept saying this and wouldn’t quit until I told you.”

I handed him headphones and the CD player.

“Here,” I said. “This is what I was trying to listen to.”

I waited until I knew the piece had begun, then shouted:

“TRUUUUUUUUUUUUE INTENT!”

“Stop,” he said, laughing a little.

I waited a few more seconds, then repeated:

“TRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUE INTENT! THAT IS THE KEY TO EVERYTHING!”

I don’t remember what his response to that was, but I didn’t interrupt again. When the music had ended, he handed back the CD player.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “That is a really beautiful piece.”

Yes, I know it is. If played right, it can be heartbreakingly tender. It is such a great contrast to the mischievous, light and cheerful Passepied that follows.

“Well, at least the message got to its intended recipient,” I said. After all, that’s all that was happening. My mind was open, and whoever wanted my husband to know about “true intent” knew I was a reliable messenger.

Art and the transmission of art, the craft and knowledge of it being transferred from one person to another, is a deeply mysterious thing. You can read all the books in the world about an art, cram your head with facts and figures, theories on how things are done a certain way and why.

Yet without that person-to-person connection, the knowledge is meaningless and useless.

I’ve discovered that, if you are passionate about your art, you will be given a teacher that can transmit that art in the most perfect way for you to absorb it.

At other times, though, the transmissions come from unlikely directions. Today, I was responsible for transmitting something of an art form totally foreign to me. For me, it will always be a good story. For my husband, whose art is impacted by the message I passed, it is something valuable.

I could have ignored the voice–and believe me, I really wanted to! Couldn’t the universe find some other way to send this information without bothering me?

Maybe not. Often, a message has more import when it’s received and delivered by someone who couldn’t possibly make it up if they tried.

I’ve got at least a day or two of learning before I begin the Sarabande. When I listened to the piece later this afternoon, there were no interruptions. But even if I never hear that voice again, whenever I play the piece, somewhere deep in my mind, the words will ring out along with the notes:

“TRUUUUUUUUUUUUUE INTENT!”

Last Walk of the Night

Posted March 3, 2009 by halfnotes
Categories: Blindness, Dreams

We were warned about the cold.

I had been listening to Chopin just before midnight last night, still in my clothes because Ecko and Kiefer had to go out once more. Ecko, who will turn 6 at the end of this month, never passes up a chance to go outside. Kiefer, who is now 15, doesn’t always remember why he’s out there, and even if he does, he’d much rather come back indoors and find a warm spot to curl up and go to sleep in.

But it was the last walk of the night. I’d wrapped myself in a scarf, hat, gloves, even long johns–and who is this John whom we now immortalize in thermal underwear?

The night was clear, and where we walked, I could feel no wind, surrounded by the Pine Bush.

It was utterly still, no rush of cars hurrying from importance to urgency along the road, no birdsong or cricket rasp–those wouldn’t return again until morning in another season.

But the trees shifted uneasily. They leaned in, seeming to listen for their own indication that yes, spring would be coming soon. They rubbed their branches together conspiratorially, like old knights in ancient armor, each small movement making a dry, bitter creaking sound that chilled me even more than the night’s temperature.

I was glad to have the light on my walk this morning, and the chickadees. Somehow, even as the trees continued to make their small, sullen movements, the chill had gone out of me, and I walked among them with my two faithful dogs, reassured.

Courtly Dances: Courante

Posted March 2, 2009 by halfnotes
Categories: Bach, Blindness, Braille, music, piano, psychology

Today, we had snow–not much, but enough that my two students who come down out of the Helderburgs to study canceled because of bad road conditions.

So, I took a glass of hot, sweet tea downstairs and set about learning some Bach, particularly the Courante from the fifth English Suite.

It’s a much more lighthearted dance than the preceding Allemande, which gave me fits because of all its chromaticism.

I learned the first half of the Courante and thought very seriously about trying for the whole thing. I read through the left hand part for the second half, even looking to see how many pages it took up in Braille.

But with the struggle for the Allemande fresh in my mind, I thought better of it. My mind conjured up an image of a greedy snake who tries to swallow an entire mouse in one gulp. It’s certainly possible, but, like that snake, I might be rendered mentally immobile for some time and get stuck trying uncomfortably to digest what I’d taken in, all the while making ugly sounds and floundering around in confusion.

No, better to wait, even if only until tomorrow morning.