A close friend of mine, someone who has a fairly challenging job and has raised two children, also happens to be a fine amateur violinist. He has kept his playing going throughout his life, gives frequent recitals, and even records his playing to give out as gifts to friends and family. His passion for music has only grown over the years, and is something that gives him great satisfaction. And, it is something we share that has helped to keep our friendship going for over forty years!
Of course, we humans need creativity and inspiration in our lives. Without these, our lives have little meaning. Why would we get up in the morning, if not to experience the galvanizing realization of the possibility of things getting better and more magical? This is the point of life. I have come to believe that there is a real, tantalizing spirit world (notice how much of “spirit” occupies the word “inspiration”) that is waiting for much more human attention than it’s getting, and here we are, acting out our dramas every day, mostly unaware it exists, even though we rub shoulders with it every day.
We need to slow down, look around, and revisit the fact that we’re on a tiny piece of spinning rock catapulting through the Universe, and we will only be here for the briefest amount of time. Are we going to squander that time by reacting to inconsequential everyday happenings, like someone cutting us off in traffic? I think it is our responsibility to seek out ways to keep our hearts open to creativity and inspiration, no mean feat in a world that constantly presents situations resulting in fearful, angry, guilt-ridden reactions from its human inhabitants.
“You know what music is? God's little reminder that there's something else besides us in this universe, a harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars.” Robin Williams
As a professional violinist, why do I practice the violin every day, even now, decades after I began playing? A non-musician friend asked, surprised upon hearing that I still spend anywhere from an hour to several hours each day with my instrument, “But, don’t you already know how to play the violin?”
That comment not only made me laugh (since it struck me as funny that I was doing something that seemed natural and important to me, but incomprehensible to someone else), but it also stopped me in my high falutin’ artist’s tracks. Of course I know how to play the violin! I know where to put my fingers to produce a certain note, I know how to draw the bow to optimize a certain sound for that note. I know after years of playing how to produce results that sound professional and polished. So why do I continue to “practice”? Well, on a practical level, because I need to “stay in shape” for the next gig I play on, so I sound my best and will continue to be hired. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
The writer Joan Didion explained that she wrote each day to find out what she thought. I play each day to find out how I feel about a piece of music, and to explore the possibility that I’ll see a new, better way to perform it. I play each day because, in my opinion, I don’t play with as much finesse and command as Hilary Hahn or Gil Shaham (two of my violin heroes), and probably never will, but I want to keep trying because masterful performers like them inspire me. Because I haven’t yet touched enough people with my playing, or learned enough about playing to regularly touch people. Because there’s some inspiration, some expression inside me that’s dying to get out, and I haven’t yet found the door to release it. Because the violin closely simulates the human voice, and I want to cry out with urgency and spill over with joy and passion in a way that goes to the very soul of expression.
Here’s the thing: If I’m not at the top of my game and inspiration hits, I may not be able to respond quickly or expertly enough to capture its essence. And I can’t let that happen.
I had a friend who came to concerts of the Milwaukee Symphony, an orchestra I played in long ago. We were doing Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and she had not planned to stay for the whole thing, since she had made plans to meet friends before the concert ended. She told me later that she couldn’t leave, that it seemed like we were “just getting to the good part”.
I was taken aback by this statement. As a musician, I believe all the parts of a masterwork are the good parts, but I understood what she was saying: the story was coming to the part she could relate to, where things got exciting and hopeful, and we would find out how it ended.
Adam, one character in the book I’m currently working on, knows he is searching for more meaning in his life, and instinctively guesses that the key to this search is in his love of music, but he hasn’t thought about this specifically; he just knows music makes him feel and experience his life the way nothing else has. He comes to understand, as time goes on, that this love is a spiritual necessity, not just for him, but for humanity, and that filling his spirit and heart with the nourishment of music actually makes the world a better place.
This is true of any kind of spiritual growth, and is enough. If you experienced a concert and it moved you, take the rest of the day off and treasure the memory, that’s enough. If you shared your feelings with someone who needed you by writing a poem, that’s enough, put your feet up. If you noticed the beauty of a flock of birds flying overhead…...that’s enough, give yourself some kind words and smile at your amazing existence.
What if all we had to do in life is joyfully create and/or notice stuff that improves and enriches the lives of those around us, in celebration of the lives we’ve been given?