Sunday morning, we went to church. At least, what I consider church. Tom and I met some friends for breakfast at Black-Eyed Susan where among other things we discussed our beliefs, and afterward we went inside to play some music, which always lifts my spirits. Isn’t that church?
It was not an easy morning, by far. But it was worthwhile for me. I knew going in that I wasn’t up to the task at hand. I am a beginning ukulele player. It’s a difficult thing being a student at this age. Many people feel that you should know what you’re doing by now. I’m one of them. There’s a lot I don’t know. Playing the ukulele is something I’m determined to learn. It’s a good starting point for me in the world of stringed instruments.
I met with a couple of world-class musicians. Taylor Pie, who is a professional musician living in Tennessee, was one of them. The other was Emma Tyme Brown-Shaklee. She’s my neighbor, and an up and coming world-class musician. At twenty, Emma knows much about music, having learned the ins and outs of many different instruments. She has graciously volunteered to teach me more about the ukulele. She is a patient teacher.
Funny thing about that, patience. I took one of those facebook quizzes the other day, which determines your prominent emotion. I was certain mine would be love, of course. But the one that arose for me was patience. It’s true, I have much patience. I consider it a form of love. I must learn to be more patient with myself.
As we played together, both Pie and Emma encouraged me. I asked a few questions. I asked about the difference between 4/4 time and 3/4 time. Mind you, I’ve been writing songs myself for twenty years. I write from my heart, rather than from a musical background. I am a poet. As the words arise, I also hear the music that goes with them. I have the melody in my head, and a passable voice. So I sing them. I was fortunate enough to find accomplished musicians to accompany me. Finally, I figured it might be a good idea to learn how to play so I could accompany myself.
Emma patiently explained that four beats to a measure is 4/4, and three beats to a measure is 3/4 time. I understood that, but I said it was the bottom four which confused me. What did it mean? It was my mathematical brain looking for a logical answer. In 3/4 time, the beat is on the quarter note. “But what does that mean?” I wanted to know.
I simply couldn’t understand what Emma was patiently explaining. I asked another question, frustrated with my own lack of understanding, losing patience with myself. At one point, someone in our small audience called out, “The beat is on the quarter note,” echoing what Emma had explained earlier.
“I must be thick-headed.” I murmured. And I dropped that line of questioning. I’ll get it. I will. I understand that music is what fills my heart and soul, if not my brain. Although it’s found its way there, since I wake with a song in my head nearly every morning.
Pie and Emma played some folk tunes in the key of C, so I could play along. My fingers fumbled on the frets, working hard to keep up with them. G7 to C is not a smooth transition for me. At the end of our first song, Pie exclaimed “You played a song!” My face was flushed with success and embarrassment. I should know this by now, shouldn’t I?
I understand this is why people quit learning. This fear of making a mistake and embarrassing yourself in front of others who are far more accomplished. It has nothing to do with my teachers, who are wonderful, and everything to do with me. So I don’t quit. I plug away, learning from videos and practicing with others. I fumble, and feel myself starting to get better. I am patient.
I’m very aware that my competitive spirit is at play here as well. I like to compete. I like to win. I remind myself, in today’s world competition has turned us all into winners and losers. And competition was not formed for that reason. The person in first place is meant to encourage the one in second place to try harder, who in turn encourages the third placer to try harder. Competition teaches us to strive, making it a cooperative venture, which is quite the opposite of how most people compete, I know. The older I get, the clearer it becomes. Life is a game. I am not here to win. I am here to play.
The song in my head this morning when I woke was “Tin Man” by America. The lyric with today’s message must be “Oz never did give nothing to the tin man that he didn’t … already have.”
The music is already in me. I will play on.