Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In a Different Room (But Maybe Not an Empty Room)

This morning, I was flipping through a forgettable magazine that comes free with the newspaper, and came upon a story about a student who was in trouble at school, and made to sit alone in a different room. The student began to dance and, well, they didn’t really give any details or tell much of the story or say who it was, but supposedly the student found her calling and because a famous choreographer. Not a well-told story, but it did get me thinking. . .

A few years ago, I spent the night at a friend’s lake house, all by myself. My family and her family had been there the night before, but since I had a performance nearby the next day, and everyone else had to get back home, it made sense for me to stay – and believe me, I was SO looking forward to it. I had hoped to take a nice walk around the lake after saying our good-byes, but it was cold and rainy. So I went back inside and . . . looked around . . . and it dawned on me . . . there is no piano here! I don’t know what to do with myself without a piano. At home, I can’t wait for everyone to leave the house so that I can sit at the keys for hours, writing, practicing and studying. But what do I do when I am left in a different room, really alone??

I bet you are thinking that I will say I started writing poetry and wrote the piece that caught the eye of an important publisher and launched my career as a poet. Or that I found some art supplies and an umbrella, and painted a beautiful lake scene during the storm, which went on to win prizes and launched my career as a landscape artist. But, neither of these things happened. What did happen is rather embarrassing to admit. We don’t have cable TV at home. We don’t have a large TV screen. We don’t have a satellite dish. The lake house had all of these items. I ended up flipping channels for hours, finding nothing on, until settling into the classic film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (which was actually pretty good.)

What I experienced at home last week was luckily quite different. My son was away for a week doing volunteer work. My daughter had just started day camp. I had my first taste of real freedom and aloneness in about a year and a half. It was so . . .different. It took me awhile to find myself again. I was writing words and writing music, maybe not my best, but I was remembering and experiencing the bliss of just doing it. In a few days, I noticed some improvement, especially in the music. One morning, I spent what seemed like hours (because it was) just trying to find the right tempo for a section I was working on. It seemed perfect until I put on headphones and listened while walking. The problem was that I meant to write something that I could walk to – but the pace was too slow. When I re-taped at the right walking speed, the melody sounded too rushed. Oh no! I kept adjusting until I could make a clear decision, and luckily, I didn’t have to rewrite the whole thing. I was happily obsessing over the minute details of composition! Yeah, I had found my calling again!

So, back to the bad student-turned-dancer. I agree that one can get closer to finding their calling when they are alone. But one also needs the right tools to experiment with when they are in that different room. Or not necessarily the “right” tools, but at least a reasonable facsimile. The student had a dance floor. I kind of need a piano. (Or at least a tape recorder to sing into. Or some pots and pans to bang on. And some manuscript paper and a pencil. . .) And no one can find their calling with a TV remote (except maybe Loren Michaels or Steven Speilberg or Jerry Seinfeld or Taylor Archibald or. . .)

June 26, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wait and Hope

One of my missions in life is to inspire creativity in others. I can’t force this on anyone, or even expect it to happen. I don’t have a magic formula. All I can do is be there, and wait and hope. I could say the same thing about my own writing, whether music or words. I can’t force it to happen, or know whether I will be happy with what comes out that particular moment. I don’t have a magic formula. All I can do is be there, ready with paper and pencil, and wait and hope.

My cellist friend Ingrid and I took our chances a few months ago, hoping to inspire students at the Indiana School for the Blind in their artistic endeavors. Our plan: To perform my music during their art classes and talk about where my inspirations come from, to talk about our instruments and why we chose them, and to wait and hope. The art teacher also had a plan: To help the students create tiles out of clay, with their own unique patterns and textures, that he would weave together into a large work of art, to be installed permanently on the campus. (How cool is that!)

About midway through the first day, the principal stopped by and asked, “Is it making any difference?” I said that this was hard for me to answer, since I had never watched the students in art class when they didn’t have a live musical performance to (possibly) inspire them as they worked. When I posed the question to the art teachers, they said that the students usually have trouble getting started on a project. They wave their hands and call out for help at every point along the way. But with us present, the teachers were amazed at how well the students were able to work independently. They sat down and dug their hands in and worked it!

I was particularly amazed with the profound thoughts the students shared with me about music. I wish I could remember the exact words he used, when one particular 16-year-old boy talked deeply about how much music meant to him. Many of the students came forward to put their clay-caked hands on the instruments. We loved seeing the delight in their faces while they plucked the strings and caressed the keys.

We don’t really know what difference we made that week. We don’t know if some students went home that day and wrote poetry, or improvised music, or used their imaginations in a different, more imaginative way. But we came, we waited, we hoped and we played the music. And we look forward to seeing the culmination of their work on the campus sometime this fall.

Becky Archibald
June 20, 2012