Those of you, and I am so grateful for you, who read my blog on a regular basis would be aware that I haven’t written very regularly this month.
Perhaps I have been extraordinarily busy with work.
But also, at the beginning of the month, I had my piano tuned. It’s needed it for some time. I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I was feeling a vague sense of guilt that I never play it, and then I realized that I didn’t like the way it sounded, all out of tune. So, I had it tuned.
I’ve been playing it madly ever since. I pass it, on the way to get something from the kitchen, and I can’t resist playing some tricky part of a song, some trilly part that’s hard to get right.
And I’m learning to play new songs. I was getting tired of all the old ones I knew. I have been trying to learn some old irish ballads, and some old jazz songs.
Ballads are so pretty; they tear my heart out. I will often cry as I play and sing them.
But jazz is another animal entirely. They seem so simple when you hear them, and somehow, they slip away. You try to sing them, and then find you can’t remember the words. What was that again? It just slips out of your mind.
It was surprising to me to realize that most of them were just two or three very simple verses. Why is that so hard to remember?
So when I sit down to play these simple songs, I also find they are not so simple to play. I learned to play piano by teaching myself. I learned to play melodies on my own, and then I pestered other people and read things until I got an understanding of how music works. For any song, there is a structure, a musical structure. It’s like a grid that you can place down over any song, and know how you can place the parts of the song in relation to itself and in relation to music as a concept.
Jazz does not fit the grid very well.
If you read about jazz, read what they said about it at the time, the people were freaking out at how innovative and weird and NEW it was. “Jungle music” they called it, among other things. Some people couldn’t get enough of it.
Since I’ve been so fascinated with my newly tuned piano, music has been on my mind, I found my harmonica, and I was trying to play some of the same songs on it as I was walking to the bus stop.
“Danny Boy” worked pretty well, but “Pennies from Heaven” was hopeless. I realized that the harmonica does not have all the notes that a piano has. There simply was nowhere to go, nowhere to reach for the notes I needed.
And it clicked with me. That is why Jazz was so exciting to these people when it was new. They had their minds in the grid. And when the jazz musicians reached out for a note that wasn’t in the grid, it was practicially like reaching into a fourth dimension. It was blowing their minds!
I am thinking of the novel by Sinclair Lewis, Flatland. New things are so hard for us to come to terms with.
So why does the piano keep me from writing? I don’t know. My mother raised me on theories of right-brain and left-brain functions. I will say that when I play the piano, my mind does not think in words very well. I don’t know why, but even the words in songs do not interrupt the flow of concentration created by my hands on the keys of the black and whites.
I am disappointed, because I do not play as well as I used to.
But even when I was as good I used to be, I was not as good as I wanted to be. I feel a push to do more than I can, more than I even know how to do.
I am not writing as well as I wish, or as much as I wish. And I am not playing as well as I want.
I have been feeling a hunger for a sewing machine, lately. I want to make something, create something that has not been done before.
I haunt the craft shop, and I tell myself, “you can’t find the time to write, you can’t find the time to practice your piano enough, how are you going to have time to sew?”
But I can’t leave.
I feel the urge to reach out in a direction that has not been traveled before, or even discovered. And I fight myself all the time about it. I don’t know the way to start, or to find what I am looking for. What use would it be if I did? What would it matter? Who would care? How could I possibly succeed? What would good would it do if I even did?
But still I am haunting the craft stores, feeling the materials, and fantasizing about vagues shapes and colors and textures.