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After a summer of relative blog quietude, the school year fast approaches – this year with the additional time pressure/terror from a summer more focused on moving into and fixing up a new home than on work. Inspired by Thoreau’s exhortation in Walden​ (originally from Confucius?) to “Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again,” I find moral help and encouragement from two sources. One is my recent discovery (thanks, AE!) of the cloud-based organization tool Workflowy, which is helping me sort through the mountain of tasks and projects facing me. The other is in having a morning routine that devoutly includes playing music.

Practicing piano I find both mentally and spiritually salubrious in ways quite different than the trombone. Handling multiple lines; harmony; fine, regulated control of the fingers, working with the hands, arms, and body weight all make it a totally different experience. I am turning to Bach and the Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, as well as Beethoven sonatas, as a daily ritual, revisiting pieces stored somewhere in my memory but rusty. One of these is the C Major Fugue, whose four voices occasionally make for a handful as I work to recover this piece.

I would often find my fingers getting tense as I would try to get more sound leading to the end of the fugue. But as an instrumentalist I know that the way to get more, and more beautiful, sound is to ​relax​. This principle came back to me as I was working on the lead-up to the ending. Instinctively I transferred the effort of getting more sound away from my fingers and into greater use of arms and body weight – a more ergonomically wise use of physical levers.

Of course, the sound just opened up when I did this – the piano started to ring. I felt the exhilaration of something clicking in my technique and simultaneously hearing the effect of this shift. My hands instantly became free and untangled as I was able to dig in more using weight and larger muscles, and the opened-up sound of the instrument came through my ears and my bones. My shoulders relaxed, my breathing opened up. And the insight came through this little moment of re-revelation (for I have of course learned this lesson before, many times) – simply to begin, and to approach each moment, with boldness, trusting my physical intelligence, my intuitive musical/animal self, to find a better, more natural and elegant way of doing whatever is on deck at the moment. Just like watching the Olympic athletes in action – we too are always capable of this, no matter at what point in the day or in our lives.

Again from Thoreau: “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.”

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