“Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.”
- Samuel Butler
It’s been just less than two weeks since I bought a nylon-string classical guitar as a Chanukah gift to myself. And, in that time, I’ve been busily practicing away, enough that small callouses have begun to form on the tips of my left-hand fingers.
During the first week, I dutifully worked my way through introductory etudes and exercises, eventually reaching the point that I could play something resembling Au Clair De La Lune at barely lumbering speed.
Then, last weekend, thumbing through the back of the method book, I discovered a transcription of Packington’s Pound. I knew the song from Julian Bream’s The Woods So Wild, a classical lute record I loved so much as a child that I made my parents play it for me nightly as I fell asleep. Though Packington’s Pound was clearly well beyond my exceedingly limited guitar abilities, I set to work, beat by beat, trying to figure it out.
Through the weekend, I couldn’t play even a single full measure. But, by Wednesday, much to my own surprise, I found I could strum a fairly good likeness of the entire piece. I turned back to the front of the book, and the earlier etudes that had dogged me just one week before seemed effortlessly easy. Apparently, by throwing myself into musical depths way above my head, by painfully but consistently muddling through, I made progress far faster than I would have by taking the more sensible, incremental approach.
And, looking back on 2005, looking back over the last few years, I see that same approach borne out through nearly all of my life. In work and play, love and friendship, I’ve drank direct from the fire hose. I’ve made mistakes, of such number and magnitude that I can no longer keep track. And I’ve learned far more in the process than someone of 26 years has any right.
So, to those I’ve hurt, offended or wronged, my sincere apologies. I think, at least, that I can promise I won’t do it again in the same way, that I won’t make the same mistakes twice. But, at the same time, I’ll be spending 2006 swimming into deeper waters still. Preemptive apologies for the whole new collection of mistakes I’ll doubtless find my way to pioneer throughout this coming year.
Sure, jumping in head-first isn’t the easiest way to do things, but it’s the best I’ve found so far. Time to take another year’s worth of leaps. —
For the past three or four days, I’ve been working on another far-too-difficult-for-me guitar piece, Snowflight, from Andrew York’s beautiful suite The 8 Discernments. While I have an exceedingly long way to go on figuring out how toplay it well, this morning I recorded a quick MP3 of my muddling through. Enjoy:
Snowflight, performed by Joshua Newman