Monday, June 13, 2011

Repertory Re-Ticklings, and the Pleasures of the Dirt

Hello World,

Sorry I've been out of touch for over a month—the longest hiatus from this tiny slice of the Great Blogberry Pie—but Spring deluged me with its swollen clouds and shredded my sails with its spirited winds. When tempests disperse, however, and the heavens sparkle once again, and the sun rises over refreshed earth, and the birds punch the dawn time clock, here's what remains for me:

Bach and baseball (Hit Play and read on.)

I took piano lessons for 7 years as a kid and quit when my teacher wanted me to play Bach and I wanted to play Billy Joel. So lately, with some time on my hands and a new keyboard installed where the Christmas Tree had left an inviting strech of apartmental wall, I liberated my sheet music from the anonymity of mini storage and started playing. And I got better.

It's one of the most basic lessons we learn and yet so easily forgotten: practice pays off. Over the years I winnowed my piano playing goals to just a few songs, and of course over time, large sections of those pieces drained out of my fingers—musical blades gone dull from a profound lack of sharpening. But they're still in there: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which made my father weep just a little when a 12-year-old me played it without error one Pennsylvanian summer evening; my favorite rag, Solace, by the incomparable Scott Joplin; and now, also, the elegant musical expression of a strand of human DNA—a few of J.S. Bach's divine preludes, as inevitable as a spider's spun web, and a gift to myself to learn.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox turned their backs on an inglorious start and scaled the craggy backside of the American League East. At this writing, they're on a 9-game winning streak, including two ought-to-be-illegal beat-downs of the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they outscored 30-5, and a gorgeous dismantling of the hapless Yankees, swept back-to-back at home, and who haven't dropped six straight to the Sox since 1912.

My son was pressed into some relief pitching in his 10/11-year-old league. Not his first choice, but when handed the ball, he went about his business with workmanlike resolve, fixing hitters with a flinty stare and a no-nonsense delivery. Struck out one. Despite a winless season for his team, he hasn't lost interest and we focused on discrete victories: excellent at-bats and successful defensive plays. We also picked up some great tips from his coach this year and if he so chooses, I'll be squatting in the dirt with a catcher's mitt any time he wants. Practice yields results. Important for an 11-year-old to learn, on the cusp of the two words most feared in the parental lexicon: Middle School.

Practice for his Dad, who still learns lessons at 41: How best to keep his mouth shut at critical times, how to play winning softball with just a dash of motivational trash talk (again, with the catching), how to filter the beautiful opportunities he's lucky enough to encounter in life, through a Baroque sieve, one note at a time.

Here's to a nice summer, readers, wherever you are, and to taking thoughtful, nurturing steps with the opportunities that matter the most. I'll be trying to do that the best way I know how—a promise to myself, as well as to you.


  1. I loved this so much. It really spoke to me as I continue to practice my 750 words, my 20 minutes of stillness on the cushion and my chaturanga dandasana each day. Oh, practice! Patanjali said it the best: "That practice is truly grounded which is done incessantly, with reverence, for a long time." Thanks for this beauty of a post, Andrew.

  2. good to hear from you! and that you've blown the dust off the musical center of your brain... although whenever i hear "Moonlight Sonata", i have to fight the urge to sing the Lucy song, from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown".

    here's to practice. not even striving for "making perfect", let's just go for the stretch, shall we?

  3. you know I discovered a couple of years ago myself, it was the oddest thing. If I practice my guitar, I got better. still not good, but better