Getting in Tune

“There is nothing more to be said or done tonight, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellowmen.”  — Arthur Conan Doyle

Dawn is coming and the Enchanted Forest is getting yet another glazing of snowishly crusty “stuff”! After a golden evening of gardening and discovering sleepy crocuses and daffodils, as unwilling to rise and shine as surly teenagers from beneath their duvets of dead leaves, I can hardly believe it.  Will the warmth ever inhabit the light again? This watery light lacks the heat to melt the ice lingering along the margins of this muddy, exhausted looking landscape. My little lambs, who don’t know anything different, frolic and delight themselves with springing on stiff legs across the yard, playing chase with a leaf and doing complicated jumps off the front steps that would make a skateboarder proud.  They giggle and wriggle and fling themselves in all directions at once as if they have ants in their black wooly pants.

You would think Spring (a peppy little word that accurately describes the lambs but not what New Englander’s call The Time of Mud) would bring out the Best in people, as it does other creatures—with its weddings, proms, fancy dress banquets and galas—but no.  With so much celebration approaching, each customer comes in grumpier and in more of a hurry than the last.  I have found that true New Englanders can cope with grim, hard winters that last eleven months; they can survive on nothing but bread and milk and NPR for weeks on end but they get all pissy when they have to take off their snow gear and don a proper suit, bare their arms, or attend any occasion that requires them to eat petits fours while wearing Spanx.

Because I really cannot abide grumpiness for very long and because my life is my own damn fairytale and I can change the story any time I want, I decide to magically turn all the customers into musical instruments and instantly restore humor and harmony to my little corner of the world.

A tin-whistle telephones. Her daughter has been jilted by her date—do they still have to pay for their alterations, since they no longer need the dress? An English horn rings, her daughter is not yet sure if her date is planning to take her or his ex-girlfriend.  The mother, unsure of how this drama will play out, wants to know over the ‘phone, how much it will be to hem the dress at the last minute, in case her daughter, the understudy, gets called in for the starring role on prom night. She doesn’t want to “waste the money” to get her daughter’s dress fixed if the girl is just going to stay home.

A bellicose Tuba charges in, wanting to know why we haven’t called him about his pants. “Well, sir, it’s Prom Season…we have a FOREST of gowns in here to chop down one by one and you said you were not in a hurry so...”

“Yes,” he honks angrily, turning pink, “but that was two days ago!”  I briefly consider changing him to Timpany, since Timing seems so important to him even though he hasn’t a clue how it works.  He marches, huffing and tutting, out the back of the shop and brushes past a tiny little piccolo and a family of woodwinds trying to reach the bell so they can be let in the back door.  The little piccolo gets dressed up in her frock for Easter, which is far too big for her while her sister woodwinds busy themselves with rearranging pins in the pin cushions. (“See,” says Prudence knowingly, “your grandmother was right.  Children don’t need toys. They are having way more fun with a pin cushion than those wretched things called ‘Hatchimals.’”)  After the woodwinds’ peaceful departure, in comes a dear little pedal Harp.  She just had her 100th birthday and she wants us to find a way to accommodate her long underwear under her blouse so that it doesn’t show at her great-grandson’s wedding in July.

While she is still in the dressing room, a Bassoon comes in to ask if we have a “rest room.”  Prudence archly wants to know if he is really going in there to “rest” or if his more accurate intentions are to tinkle all over the seat then leave it up.  He returns after a brief absence (during which we do not hear the water running in the sink) to enquire if we can add a third button to a suit jacket that has only two.  I get excited because I love doing buttonholes by hand. There is something about getting a row of tiny knots to lie down next to each other and Behave that never loses its thrill for me.

“Can you believe it? This is my first suit I’ve had since I made my first Communion!”  The Bassoon stands there double-reeded in his single-breasted suit, a column of air, vibrating and producing sound, as we pin him and organize the fabric around his shoulders, chest, and back. “I’m over sixty and I’ve lived my whole life without needing a suit.  I wouldn’t get one now either, ‘cept my daughter’s getting married and she wants it to be fancy.  She says I have to have a suit.”

All day long, the parade continues—clarinets and trombones, trumpets, kazoos and kettle drums.  A sweet, little round French horn comes in to ask if we can custom-make little round sheets for his little round bed.  It is a “perfeck round bed,” he says, “right in zee middle of zee room, where one can appreciate it from any angle.”  He wants a round duvet and cover too. He is hoping to make it nice so he can lure some little round females there to keep him company.  With his heavy French accent and his Inspector Clouseau mustache, he is almost adorable.  (We decide to ignore his comments about enticing women.) “Where does one put the pillows on a round bed?” I want to know.  For some reason, my innocence irritates him and his tone shifts suddenly from mellow, seductive metallic to brassy, forte: “Anywhere you Want, damnit!  Anywhere you want! Zey sheeft wis you ven you move…  I sleep like dis” (he indicates with his hand vertical, rotating in sharp, staccato clicks) like a Sundial all night!”  I can just see his Tinder profile now… “seeking fellow sundial to share round bed—only the clockwise need respond…”

 I am still thinking about music at the end of the day, as I make my drive home.  When I arrive, there is a banjo in his mid thirties who is leaking badly and needs to talk.  He is having a crisis at home.  He is worried that his wife is ready to walk out on him and the little harmonicas.  There is no harmony.  He does not know what to do. 

“What kind of music are you trying to play?” I ask.

“I’m not sure,” he shakes his head ruefully, “I’m afraid there isn’t a musical bone in my body,” he sighs.

“Well, that’s just crap,” I say in a businesslike tone.  “Everyone’s bones are musical.  One of my favorite dance partners of all time is stone deaf and just ‘feels’ the music through his bones.  He keeps perfect time, just by connecting to the beat through the floorboards and watching the musicians on stage. He senses it perfectly though he’s never heard a single note. Music is everywhere, even if you can’t hear it.”

The banjo just shrugs.  He looks defeated.  Prudence can tell he needs a stern talking to and possibly some scones and tea.

“The reason I ask, is that my answer to ‘what you should do’ has a bunch of layers.  Firstly, it’s not for me to heap “shoulds” upon you but to point out that you have some wonderful opportunities here! If you want to reestablish harmony with your wife, you both need to get in tune before you can start trying to share a melody.  Someone can be out of tune because their instrument needs tuning—their strings are out or their sound-post or bridge needs adjusting. So, first you need to make sure the physical instrument is ready to play.  Your four strings are diet, exercise, sleep, and eliminating vices. Do those things first.  Tune your body. 

The next reason a player is out of tune is because his fingers don’t know what they are doing.  You need to teach them scales and exercises and simple tunes.  You need to practice.  DAILY. You will quickly find that fingers are an unruly mob of insolent and disobedient rabble. This is because they need a leader. You need to tune your Mind. Listen hard to the Best Music. Listen every day, as much as you can.  A lot of people think because they have music on constantly that they are listening to it.  They are not.  They are actually tuning it out and ignoring it.

Sit with it in your own silence and Pay Attention at the deepest levels. Listen. Your ears will teach your brain, your brain will teach your fingers, your fingers will reveal all the beauty in your heart.  I don’t care which Prophet you choose—whether it’s Alasdair Fraser or Yo-Yo Ma or Rumi or that rock star, Buddha. Pick one and Study faithfully. Devote yourself.

STOP pointing out how out of tune your wife is.  This does no one any good.  You can only tune you. So do that.  She will have to decide for herself what kind of music she wishes to play in her one short, precious life.  Meanwhile, you will be a lot more fun to play with when you are in tune and sounding great.

Here’s the thing about music.  To be good at it, you have to be willing to be bad at it—for a Very Long Time.  Finding love in the hardest of situations is part of what we all come here to do so forget about how hard it is and look for the love of it. You need to be realistic about how bad you are and do something about it but you also have to love the journey and yourself.  Loving yourself is what makes you realize you could be amazing with a little work, that you are Worth that work. It’s called practice.  And Discipline. No one wants to play with someone who never practices and never improves. One of the beautiful ironies about bringing music to the world is that you need to spend a lot of time alone before you can play with others. You can’t just keep showing up at congregations, jam sessions, or synagogues and going through the motions as if you know what you are doing. You don’t. Don’t think you must only ever play alone either! Playing solo only is not healthy. Music is a language.  It is meant to be shared, to communicate—to commune, to community-ify, to make Common.  

Music is fundamentally organized by Silence. The duration of each mini silence between the sounding of each note, along with the duration of each note, is what gives us our sense of timing. One must honor the Silences as equally as one honors the notes, in order to stay in time. You cannot just run all the right notes together, even if they are in the right order, and expect it to sound like anything. So meditate. Befriend Silence.

If you really know someone, you already know what tunes he or she knows too and you remember to play them when you are together. You don’t get complex and show off for too long—you create community by including the lowest level players.  Love is a Music that Includes.

Your pain now is your future blessing. It’s a signal that you are on the Right path to fearlessly create more of everything that makes your heart sing.  Everything is going to totally suck for a little while and that’s ok. It’s necessary even.

Of course, I couldn’t exactly say ALL of that to the weeping banjo.  But I wanted to. So I’ve said it here, to you, my darlings.  Remember, Life is a Symphony! (Or a slow jam!) We each have a responsibility to get ourselves in tune!  Let’s work on our chops and PLAY, PLAY, PLAY!

May you find your harmony today and do all kinds of Good Work!

With so much love…

Yours aye,