Joy in Music

This morning I took our dog Gizmo out for a leisurely walk while Adam slept in.  I didn’t have anywhere to be.  I had things to take care of, but they could wait until the afternoon.  So I roused the sleeping hound, and we took off around the neighborhood.

We started walking off leash, which Gizmo likes.  But around halfway through, he always gets very draggy.  True to form, he became very distracted about halfway around the circle and was reluctant to walk without prodding.  

While putting him back on the leash, I wondered if maybe he likes certain things about being on leash.  It’s certainly easier for him to communicate with us non-verbally on the leash.  Also, I’ve just returned home from a week away.  It might have been my imagination, but to me, Gizmo actually seemed happy to be connected to me that way, as is our normal fashion.  

We resumed our walk as I pondered this thought.  Gizmo pulled over several times to pee, though at that point in the walk it’s really to sniff light poles or street signs.  On the third time Gizmo tried to pull aside, I balked.

“No,” I said.  “You’ve sniffed enough.”

As I pulled him away, he craned his neck out to take in one last smell of the distraction.  Looking down, I saw that the bush he was sniffing was covered in flowers.

We started to walk away, and I thought, “This is a dog!  Going outside is one of the small handful of pleasures he experiences every day.  Also, smell is his greatest gift, and most of what he smells is poop and piss and garbage!  I’ve just marched him past a small opportunity for him to take pleasure in smell.  In my mind, peeing twice was enough and there was no other reason to pull over and sniff.  Well that was wrong – I’ve got to take him back there so this dog can live his life!”

I turned around and marched Gizmo back to the flower bush, where he leaned in for a good long sniff.  He then walked along the entire length of the bush in the overhanging growth, turned around, and walked through the branches filled with flowers once more.

For my part, it was such a pleasure to watch Gizmo enjoy himself.  When he came out from his return trip, his back hosted two or three white flower petals, collected along his journey.

As we turned to walk away, it occurred to me that what had just happened was a result of me responding to the moment rather than following my self-imposed arbitrary rules and restrictions.   

I didn’t have anywhere to be.  I had things to take care of, but they could wait until the afternoon.

I meditated on this.  Just through my attentiveness, my awareness, I was able to respond to what the situation required.  Awareness has been something that Adam has talked and thought about a lot in the last year.  The results were much more rewarding than had I mindlessly checked an item off my to do list.  Gizmo was allowed a moment of pure joy.  This further resulted in my pleasure over watching the flower petals slip from his back of their own accord.

We walked past another bush as I thought, instinctively pulling Gizmo away when he leaned in for a sniff.  I turned back to look.  This one was a rose bush, ten times more fragrant than the first!  Gizmo and I turned around yet again to spend a moment of late summer on enjoyment.

As he got a good smell (and maybe a good pee), I looked down to see a nicely preserved flower head.  Only in Nevada could you dry a flower naturally outdoors and end up with perfect potpourri!  I picked up the rosebud and held it to my face – the smell was just magnificent.  

Let me tell you, I sure was grateful for that rose when Gizmo took his second dump of the day a few minutes later!  You know - the runny one.

As we finished our walk, I started to think about the lesson that the universe had just taught me:

If you live with awareness and respond wisely to the circumstances of the moment, you will be rewarded in joy.  

I thought about the life of your average musician.  We sometimes feel that the music has lost its meaning because of our overexposure to it.  I remember a period of 3-4 years where I didn’t feel any goosebumps when listening to or playing music.  The realization of this made me profoundly sad.  

But at that time, I was not truly living a life in music.  No, I was WORKING a life in music.  I didn’t like to listen to classical music because I didn’t listen with awareness.  I didn’t feel goosebumps because I was doing a job, not taking a risk!  I wasn’t practicing on my own, and I had lost my joy in music.

With the return of each of those things – awareness of the music around me, determination to take a risk or fail trying, and willingness to make music by myself – I found pieces of that joy again.  

When I am practicing, I am responding to the circumstances of the moment, rather than following some prescribed set order of playing fundamentals and etudes.  I am most chiefly in search of a musical experience, and for me there must be some element of spontaneity to create that in my own practice.  Choosing pieces spontaneously also allows me to select my practice order based on endurance needs, always a consideration on a high brass instrument.  So responding to my actual needs and wants in the moment gives me joy when I practice.

Furthermore, when I am able to listen and play with more awareness, I am rewarded with joy.  This has been one of the true benefits to teaching a theory class: getting to listen to more repertoire with a heightened awareness.  Listening to the music is now one of my favorite parts of playing in the orchestra.

We must all take responsibility for keeping our own joy of music active and intact.  I tell my horn students: be very careful in whose hands you place your love of music.  Some people will want to crush it.  The right people will want to help it grow.  But one must always remember that the person who is most responsible for encouraging growth is oneself.

In conclusion, I guess the universe wants me to add more awareness to my life, not live by my prescribed set of behaviors “just because,” but to consider my actions and reactions and the circumstances surrounding them.  If I can do this, maybe I’ll be rewarded with more joy!

I have a lot of joy already; I’m super lucky in many ways, and my life’s focus is making beautiful sounds.  What’s not to like?  But I’ve been in the dark places.  I’ve felt the absence of my musical feeling.  If you resonate with that thought, I wish for you awareness of the music around you, willingness to take a risk, and the courage to take out your instrument and make music on your own.  

I promise, this will bring you joy.