Tuesday, July 05, 2005

On Not Showing Off (or, Hiding One’s Light Under a Bushel)

Yesterday I went to a picnic at a friend’s cabin on a lake. I knew that we would spend a good part of the day there, and so as I set off to leave, I made sure I had the picnic necessities – sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. And the thought popped into my head, “I should bring my Irish flute.”

“I hardly know these people!” I replied to myself. “Keep it simple! If I brought the flute, I might be hindered by it.” For example, it cannot stay in the hot car, so I’d have to carry it around with me if we went for a walk or something. So I didn’t take it.

But there reached a point in the late afternoon when I suddenly wished I had a strong and secure enough sense of self to have brought the flute. Then I might have, at that point, pulled it out and started playing it.

In the abstract, I can imagine this sort of thing being a magical moment at a picnic. For example, I would have loved it if someone else had done something like that! Suppose there were other closet musicians around who would then join in! Those not so musically inclined would listen, amazed for a moment, and then would resume their conversations and activities and that would be that.

I’m not actually sure if I could have done that if I had brought the flute. But the moment did show me something important about myself. Music is so deeply a part of my being that I must play at regular intervals. I used to worry that my urge to play was a problematic urge to “show off.” It’s terrible how powerfully we can internalize such negative messages (and where do they come from?). It was only yesterday, as I sat for a quiet moment longing for my flute, that I finally interrogated this negative interpretation.

Do I want to show off? No. My urge to play had nothing to do with showing off. On the contrary, the presence of people was the primary factor that blocked me from playing. My urge to play was because of the music itself. And my urge to play is because of the way this just is, for me, an important mode of my being. (Some people wear flashy clothes; I emit music. Not that it’s necessarily well-executed music, but that’s beside the point.)

It has often struck me as odd that people don’t routinely bring instruments to picnics and other parties. Are there just so few musicians who can play that way? Has the world of recorded music de-motivated large numbers of people from making their own music? Why should I be apologetic for playing live music when others are unapologetic about cranking out recorded music loudly into public spaces all the time?

Would it in fact be good for more people to interject live music into their social worlds as much as possible to help people remember that music really is from people and for people, a form of communication, a form of social bonding?

In retrospect, I think maybe it was wrong of me not to play yesterday.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the chance to hear flute music at a cabin by the lake sounds enchanting and would make for a memorable event. It sounds as though your "negative inner voice" won out over your initial gut reaction and talked you out of it with several logical reasons not to take it along. A suggestion might be to try going with your initial spontaneous ideas more often. It might feel "risky and dangerous" to your comfort level at first, but may lead to some serendipitous experiences!

    One of my favorite memories is the day I visited a quarry by the ocean that has filled with water over time. On the day that I visited someone was sitting on one of the stone ledges gently playing a saxaphone. The music reverberated off of the granite walls and softly wafted through the neighboring trees. I suppose that someone could have felt it intrusive to their "quiet space" but instead it was a lovely thing to experience.

    You might also want to consider that those of us (like me) who are not musically gifted often wish that we had the ability to communicate that way. I would have loved to have known how to play an instrument the night that my electrical power was out, for example. Sharing your gift in such venues gives those of us without those talents the joy of experiencing them!