Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I used to think it was the destination that was important, now I realize that it's the journey

When I first tried to learn the clarinet at 14, I focused so much on wanting to be "good" at it, and since it really doesn't work that way, I ended up quitting before I ever really even started. Same with "trying" to learn the violin.

But it has been different with the cello. Recently, I've started playing some simple American fiddle tunes adapted for the cello (Mel Bay) that I found on Amazon. So far I've only tried a few basic pieces, but I've been surprised how quickly I'm picking them up! I've a long way to go, but already they sound nice and I like hearing them as I play them.

With this Blog, I'm reporting my progress along this path of learning. As I've recounted my struggles, my successes, and my occasional flashes of clarity (as well as more than a few rants about various things that are wrong with this world), I've come to understand that it is the learning process itself that is driving me, rewarding me, making me proud of myself, and sufficiently motivating me to keep on working at it. I've known from the outset that I couldn't begin to expect to become a concert cellist; that I might never play well enough to even play in a chamber group, or a struggling quartet, or even in a jam session. All that mattered was that I wanted to learn to play the cello. Although I have no idea where this process is taking me, I've at least figured out that the more I play the better I get - it's that simple. The best advice I've heard was: "The only way to learn to play the cello well is to keep working at it."

It's the journey... not where I'm going, but how I'm getting there...

Unfortunately, I don't think we spend enough time appreciating our journey through life. As we grow up, we focus on the destinations - crawling, walking, controlling our bladders and bowels, talking; later - reading and writing, then math; later - finishing school, going to college, becoming a "worker" (engineer, lawyer, doctor, plumber, waitress, etc.) We are always worrying about the results, and our world becomes "results-oriented". As we become worker drones, our lives become even more results-oriented: do these tasks, then you are rewarded with praise, promotions, money, even just self-satisfaction. Throughout or lives, we measure our worth with these results. But we never really take the time to appreciate the process - the journey - itself.

When my third child was born, 15 years after the second one, I was at a point in my own life to be able to take the time to really appreciate the various stages of his passage through life. Never once did I feel any sense of urgency that Z had to be able to advance before he was fully ready - never: "if only he could walk, talk, dress himself, tie his shoes, etc., now." Instead, I enjoyed him as he was, every day, while teaching him to do all these things. I enjoyed as much his continued efforts to master these tasks, as I did his eventual successes - even as I also enjoyed watching him enjoying his own success (which is life's best reward).

In my former life as an oil company drone, I suddenly had to learn spanish. To understand, read, write, and even speak it in as short a time as possible. At 47, I hadn't had to deal with any foriegn languages for more than 25 years. I even escaped part of my college language requirement by taking Appreciation of Russian Literature - a wonderful course, by the way, that stood out as one of the most influential from my college years. Learning spanish as an adult, in a hurry, with the attached importance of being able to do my job better if I did, was quite an experience. There was a clear goal, but it was hard to find defineable measures of success. I began to understand that it would be a long, long time before I would ever become fluent, but along the way, I continually got better and better - as long as I worked at it. When the master bees decided to reassign me to another task in a different part of the hive, I no longer had any need to know spanish, and I immediately stopped trying to learn it, and I soon began to forget most of what I'd struggled so hard to learn up to that point.

With the cello, it will be a long time before I can say I'm "fluent". But rather than HAVE to learn the cello in order to do my job, or play in a symphony, or a chamber orchestra, quartet or jamfest, I am learning the cello merely to be able to play it as good as I can at the time.

I discovered your blog when I was googling myself, and was really surprised that you've kept such great records of your lessons with my mother! Great blog, great job. Keep up the hard work.
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