People are always convinced it must feel so wonderful to make music that touches people and connects parts of us we didn’t even know existed. They are awash in the shimmery glow of a story that hugged the end of a love they hadn’t realized was over. It’s one of the most beautiful compliments a musician can get, I think. To stand there, and be witness to this human’s bleeding yearn and desire. To be able to smile and bleed with them because their openness sprung from yours.
I always want to stand with them, in that moment. But it’s hard to hold my ground, you know? I’m honored and amazed at such a reception, every time, but making music never feels like the reward they believe it to be. I’m not up there, on stage, relishing the sounds and the air and the whatnots; there’s no soaring for me unless it’s momentary and probably accidental like maybe I fell off the stage. I’m living that story, whatever it is. I’m in the memory and the agony and the release of whatever I’ve decided to give to that piece (and all of that is contingent on me not freaking out and having a drooling tremor riddled panic attack and shitting my (-7x²) pants whilst still playing and possibly trying to salvage a key signature here and there but whatever that’s a different post k moving on). So, the exquisite grace and ease in the compliment leaves me breathless and uncertain. Do I tell them about that journey? Is it disingenuous if I just smile and thank them, while my heart wants to show them the hills under the performance, the why and where and forever of it?
When we adopted Ani, our middle beagle, she had never experienced grass before. She was experimented on in a lab her entire life, and hadn’t been outdoors. There was abuse, too, so she was scared of everything. The stairs were monsters and the leash was Satan on a motorcycle of doom and food was tempting but probably bad news still. She had to learn, not just what real life was, but how to feel it, and be ok with all those weird, safe, feelings. It was a lot of stress and hard work for her.
At the kennel, she would stand in the yard as though someone had put her there and she was just going to let it happen until something else was done to her and that would be that. Grass was this thing that was new but not painful and the best she could do was ignore it. She spent the first few weeks at our house like this; scared and stiff and just barely making it from moment to moment. I nearly gave up each and every day.
She came and sat next to me, suddenly, on a random Tuesday-nothing-afternoon, her teeny body leaning on mine and her face on my thigh. It was a sudden release of fear because, fuck, it is exhausting to be terrified every minute of every damn day. She collapsed on me because she just couldn’t anymore. So, I sat there, and I stroked her ears and cooed at her and watched her breathe slowly and without caution for the first time since she’d booped into our lives. And that was how she started life. She was born in that moment. When I let her out later on, she stopped to sniff the grass and check her paws out as they touched it. She took time to look at bugs and dirt and whatever the hell else dogs need to be looking at in the 47 years it takes them to find a pee spot. She was finally here, present.
This is music for me. Each and every time. Fighting through failed passages and bad technique habits and hours of alone time, wondering if any of it is even what it needs to be. There’s a moment in every piece I learn where I realize I have dropped the reins and am trusting the beast, my beast, my creature that I have borne and groomed for that very moment. I sit in that piece and I get things in a way that I hadn’t before; there is trust and exuberance in my certainty. The story that I crafted, whispered, and crooned, is suddenly the first sun on my face, brilliance and scorching and unavoidable and without remorse. It is terrifying in its encompassing presence and unrelenting in its necessity. The moment, that sun, my light, is a journey that I take to find life in a new way. Is it wonderful? Maybe. But it’s hard to pin ‘wonderful’ on the sun. I get burned, I sweat, I lose essential bits of moisture and vibrance. But, I am also enveloped and kissed and caressed and held and awakened.
Wonderful? Sure. It’s the sun. I just orbit it.