New Year’s Eve is a great time to reflect on existential matters. Such as the brand of champagne we’re going to drink tonight or the most efficient way to attend three parties in one evening.
It’s also a time to look back at what we’ve accomplished during the past year and weep. And try to become better.
What’s weighed heavily on me lately (besides the chocolate on my hips) is the inversely proportional relationship between the number of my interests and the time available to pursue them. Especially in the musical field. I’ve been learning and playing the mbira for two and a half years now and recently started learning how to play the oud. Am I happier as a result? If music is my passion, more music should result in more happy, right? No.
I’ve been consumed with guilt for the past four months because each time I pick up an instrument, I feel bad for not playing the other. It is such a frustrating feeling and the amount of progress I’ve made with each instrument since September is tell-tale sign that the multiplication of my activities inevitably leads to the fragmentation of my skills. It’s not rocket science: to become excellent at something, you have to give it your all.
When I took up the mbira back in 2008, I gave up horse riding. I miss horses a lot but still feel I made the right decision. To be a good rider, you have to keep your mind on riding mode even when you’re nowhere near a horse. Your posture, the way you walk, what you read, your exercise routine, and everything else you do daily is part of the training to become a better rider. All of that changes when you want to become a good musician. Horsemanship is about detail and precision. Mbira playing – to me – is about transcendence and abandon. I ride better when I’m “on” at all times, and play better when I get my mind out of the way.
When I embarked on the oud learning journey, I thought I’d be able to fit this new activity smoothly into my life because it was already consumed by music. I was so wrong. Music instruments are not interchangeable. They require different physical skills (mbira is percussive, oud is stringed), they are windows into different cultures (mbira is Zimbabwean, oud is Middle Eastern) and song patterns are different (mbira is polyrythmic and cyclical, oud follows a bunch of different scales and has more melodic variety). The differences are mind blowing and becoming familiar with them is mind consuming.
To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
So my hopes for 2011 are:
- to recognize I don’t have infinite amounts of time,
- to accept I can’t become an expert at everything,
- to continue playing both instruments,
- to allow myself to favor one over the other,
- to seek growth, regardless of its speed,
- to enjoy the music, no matter what.
That seems doable.