Friday, May 26, 2006

The Sound of Music

How is it that we can love doing something, yet fall away from doing it? Why is it that when we grow up, many of us do not make the time for those things that bring us joy?

When I was a girl, I remember spending hours in the back yard, singing selections from The Sound of Music. I sang about alpine flowers. I sang about goatherds. When I could get someone to sing with me, I harmonized about alphine flowers and goatherds. Either way, I sang loudly. I sang proudly.

As I got older, I started badgering my parents for instruments and music lessons - first the piano (though an ill fated twist involving my dad and a smooth talking organ salesman, ended up with me getting an organ instead), then it was the violin, then guitar, then, finally, voice. I sang in choirs and talent shows and harbored a secret, childish dream of being a musician, diligently practicing singing into my hairbrush every night.

Then something happened. I started to grow up, and suddenly it wasn't enough to just sing. It had to be good. Somehow, like Salieri in Amadeus, I became consumed by the idea that perhaps I was just a mediocrity. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I began to distance myself ever further from being a participant in the music that I had once so loved, leaving it to the people who really were good at it.

Oh, sure, I did my share of shower concerts and duets with Toby the dog (in case you were wondering, he prefers to howl along to songs sung loudly with his name as the lyrics, most notably The Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Macarena, and the Habanera aka the L'Amour est un oiseau rebelle song from Carmen). I am also always up for some good belting on a road trip, but the idea of seriously participating as anything but a listener to anything musical left me somewhere back in my early college years.

Then, last year, I made the acquaintance of a choir director, who gently nagged and cajoled me for a number of months before I finally showed up for one of her projects - a performance of the Missa Luba designed to raise money for hurricane victims in the Gulf states. I ended up in the soprano section. Immediately my thought was "This is too high. I can't do this." For some reason, though, I decided to stay in that section. After weeks of rehearsal (and vocal exercises at home), I actually managed to bring my range back to where I could reach those notes. I'm not saying anyone would want to hear me do a solo on them, but I could reach them respectably enough for group singing.

In the end, the performance went off well (except for one train wreck section during the Credo, but we managed to recover in the end. It wasn't perfect, but it was exhilerating. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed it. I can't wait until we do it again next year (and at a bigger venue, I might add)! Now I want to sing wherever I go. Since this could potentially cause problems, I will probably just end up joining a choir or something. Whatever I do, I do know that I want to hold on to that good feeling.

I realized in participating in the concert that the good feeling comes from somewhere other than acheiving perfection. So often when we engage in creative pursuits as adults, we want the product to be too perfect. When they're not, we berate ourselves not being good enough writers, artists, poets, photographers, musicians etc. The fear of not being perfect drives us ever further away from perfection. The truth is that creative endeavors only have a chance of transcending the mundane, if we don't lose our sense of play. You can't worry about the note you just flubbed or the really hard passage coming up on page 10. You can only live in the now (oh, clown of life, how wise you are!). Enjoy and feel the note you're on. Sure you have to practice and learn and even refine, but ultimately, it's the ability to let go and just put whatever song, words, picture, idea one has out there and develop it that makes the whole process rewarding.

Anyone who wants to produce something, needs to hone his or her craft. But the more I think about it, it's not the technical honing that makes greatness. It's the ability to build on that honing by letting go and putting one's heart into the act of creation that creates greatness. But perhaps I'm becoming too esoteric. My point really is simply that creative endeavors should be fun.

So, my advice for everyone is this: Find something that you used to love (or always wanted to try) and just do it. Don't worry about being perfect, just throw yourself into it. Take the time to learn, take the time to enjoy. It will make you feel SO good, and ultimately you'll find with time that you do get better at it. Sometimes you might even come as close to perfect as humanly possible, but mostly you'll have fun.


Jen said...

I love this post. You are so right! SO RIGHT! (aren't those some of the sweetest words in the english language? hee hee)

I think getting over yourself is one of the most crucial but underreported stages of growing up, which is weird since it's returning to a more child-like state. Maybe I mean it's one of the most crucial stages of Becoming Yourself, which is way more fun than growing up.

Chris Date said...

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

So wrote G.K. Chesterton, part of his meaning being the same as yours, though the way you said it was much more inspiring.


Martina said...

Comments! Yay! What a great reward for the afternoon I have diligently spent sifting through boxes of old crap to either throw out or donate to Goodwill or Loaves & Fishes for their annual garage sale. The things in my possession amaze (and in the case of some ancient sheet music for an Eddie Rabbit song - shame) me. On the up side, I did not find any further copies of Dracula to add to the ones for which I am already trying to find a good home.

Jen: Sweet sounding indeed! They would make a good epitaph and you're right about the need to get over one's self!

Chris: I've been thinking about you and wondering where you'd gone. I will have to write you a proper e-mail soon. Thanks for the quote, maybe I'll change the title of my post. I was having trouble finding one.

Chris Date said...

I have five, five, half-started emails to you saved in my outbox, each on a different subject, plus one non-email special that I've been intending to put together for six months. That's not an exhaustive list but it's enough to show which way our communication culpability imbalance is tipped, though it might also tell you that you are often in my thoughts.

Another thought, yet to be implemented, is that I might impose a rule that every day I write to at least one person to whom I owe mail. That way I might clear the backlog in about four months. For you, I'd have to set aside an entire week.


Chris Date said...

I'm posting this here because it might be of interest to web log type people (hi Jen and y'all), and it means the "write to Mari" to-do list won't lengthen on the same day I said I'd shorten it.

A while ago I came across a program called HTTrack which can download whole web sites, not just individual pages. I've used it only a few times, for taking copies of manuals and tutorials for offline reference. I always intended to use it to grab the entire Powellhurst magnum opus, enabling me to catch up with reading it all. I arrived at this blog late, the author not telling me about it during its first nine months, apparently some kind of gestation period.

I held off the magnum download because I assumed that I would have to spend a lot of time tweaking HTTrack to fetch the right bits. It follows certain links in order to get the contents of other pages, so in theory it could try to download the entire world wide web. Rather than retrieving too much, I thought it might miss some things I wanted, notably the pictures and the "comments" on log entries due to the way that these are linked in BlogSpot. If I had to fetch each of those manually, it would take a very long time. Expecting to have to do some adjustments later, I started by typing into the list of sites to capture, and telling the program to go get.

And that was all I had to do because HTTrack got everything I wanted first time! That really is impressive. The comments and pictures are all there, no effort at all required. Altogether, 15 Mb of data were downloaded in 45 minutes, an excellent speed for dial-up. Now I can read the whole log from the start, perhaps even copying it to my laptop to take to bed with me.

What happens when the site is updated? If I understand correctly, I will just run the program again and it will only pick up the parts that have changed, so it should only take a few minutes, not another 45.

HTTrack is Open Source, which is the very best kind of free, and is available for Linux and Windoze. You can find it, not surprisingly, at


Martina said...

Magnum opus? That sounds much fancier than the rambleriffic ramblings of a rambly person!

Your download program sounds very handy (even if words like Linux and Open Source fill me with atechnical dread). It sounds time efficient, which my own surfing is definitely NOT. I think I might miss reading blogs in their native environment. I like the clickability factor and that I could end up who knows where just by going from link to link to link.

Of course, not everyone has a magnum opus like I do. I think perhaps magnum opi? optera? opoppotomi? are special and demand reading without serialization. Did you know that Merriam-Webster lists the plural of "opus" as "opera" (alternately, opuses, which sounds far more mundane)? Until a few moments ago, I did not, but I'm not sure that was my point here. Frankly, I'm not sure I even HAD a point.

So, in summary I say 1) Yay techy Download Thing!, 2) Five half started e-mails? WOW!, and 3)Well, I really don't know WHAT to say for three, so I'll just say bye for now!

Chris Date said...

As I'm romance, not germanic, I probably ought to know this. After two years of Latin when I was 11 and 12 years old, Mr. Binns asked me to carry on with it because in the end of year exam I was 6th out of over a hundred pupils. "Yes sir, I came 6th with a mark of 24%. Sorry, but I'm off to do English Lit."

I'd plump for "magna opera" or "opera magna", though that's probably no more than 24% correct.

You atechnical? After your glee at your new wi-fi, broadband laptop? Much higher techiness than anything I have.

I ran HTTrack again and this time it ran for 41 minutes, four minutes less than the first time but that's probably because everybody is on holiday today on both sides of the Pond so the internet is faster. I was expecting the program not to need to get the whole site again but for BlogSpot that doesn't seem to work. Still, it's an easy-peasy, dead useful little utility.


Jen said...

I meant to tell you, I like the new layout here at Powellhurst!

Martina said...

Thanks, man! I want to tweak the colors a bit, but I'm liking it (though I do think your flamey picture looked better against the old black).

Holger (saltoricco) said...

Very much enjoyed reading this posting. I loved to sing, as a young boy, especially in a choir. That ended abruptly when my voice broke. There were other things I could've continued and didn't because I felt I wasn't good enough. It took me so long to realize one can do stuff for the fun of it and then it doesn't matter how good or bad the results are. I had to break free from a rigid art evaluation system that my parents still practice. Life is better now :)

Martina said...

Chris: Yes, me atechnichal! My glee was at being able to access the internet from the back porch and not so much because my eyes glaze over with longing at the sight of a gadget. I know enough to get what I want (or find someone who can get it for me), but beyond that I don't care enough in my heart to be truly technical. :-)

Martina said...

Thank you, Holger, and thanks for visiting. It's funny how we become so absorbed with being good as we get older and our egos kick in. The irony is that it is when we stop worrying about how good or bad the results are that we usually actually do acheive something. Art is not a test, and it's definitely too subjective for there to be a formula for success. Rules might help a person learn, but once you know them, it's the playing despite them that makes things interesting. Life IS much better when we rediscover the idea that one CAN and SHOULD do things simply because they are fun. Kids sure have that down. Paulo Coelho has a great quote about three things that adults can learn from children (I was just talking about it with Jen yesterday, but now, of course can't remember it...), this sense of play (or something like it) has to be one of them, though!

Leslita said...

I really loved this post too! You are SO right and it was very inspirational. Coincidentally, I'm signed up for a beginning ceramics class this summer, which I've always wanted to do. Yay!

Martina said...

Leslie - Thanks & yay ceramics! I've always thought that (and also pottery) sounded fun to do. Maybe one day... Good for you for doing something you've always wanted to do!!!!

Sonya said...

"I began to distance myself ever further from being a participant in the music that I had once so loved, leaving it to the people who really were good at it."

The same thing happened to me and my piano. When I realized that my fingers would forever be playing "Hot Cross Buns" while my mind was playing Alice Cooper... well, it was just too much for me.