Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Strength & Patience
Music has always kept me going. Through depression, anxiety, abrupt change, and illness, music has always been there for me. I remember the first moment when I felt that emotional pull from the harmonies of a song. I was 6 years old and I was hanging out on the construction site where my dad was building our new house in Florida. I had recently been plucked from my New England existence and dropped into a swampy and hot reality in St. Johns County. After school I would go to the site and listen to the radio while dad worked until sunset. Like most kids, I preferred the top 40 station, and I remember hearing "Hands to Heaven" by Breathe. Not as profound as you were probably hoping for, but it pulled at my heart, and for an instant, I felt less alone.
I have had a lot of unexpected challenges in my life lately, and the only thing keeping me grounded is music, specifically the guitar. I find this surprising about myself, because I have a love/hate relationship with the guitar. New students always make the mistake of thinking the guitar is easy. It's really no wonder why they think this. Everyone and their brother plays the guitar and those who play well make it look very easy. But, as I always warn them, the guitar is very difficult to play. It is difficult because it requires two things many people do not possess: strength and patience. Strength is the key factor in good guitar playing, and you need patience while you develop that strength. To make a good sound, your fingers need to become strong and flexible and your arms need to have the endurance to stay up for an extended amount of time. My latest musical hero is Lindsey Buckingham, the former guitarist and musical mastermind of the late 70's band Fleetwood Mac. I love the way he plays the guitar. He exhibits so much strength in the way he plays.
When Lindsey plays, the guitar is merely a vessel for the music inside of him. He is making that sound. Every song he has ever loved, every traumatic and happy experience he has ever had, every great singer and instrumentalist he has ever heard... all of that is resonating inside him and the vibrations come out as music through his guitar and voice. He can command a stage all alone where most need a band to create that kind of power. His voice is strong because he is in the moment with the lyrics and you can tell the words come from his heart. His fingers have the same honest expression. In the song "Never Going Back Again," his right hand plays a continuous roll while his left hand seems to fly all over the place playing both supportive accompaniment as well as lead riffs. This is hard to do, and the most impressive thing is that he seems to do it all from his heart.
I suppose my love/hate thing with the guitar is based on the fact that I have always been challenged by strength and patience. If I am going to play the guitar well, you are going to see a very vulnerable side of me, and will I be able to summon up the courage to do that? Can I get honest enough to show you every experience I have ever had through the vessel of my music? It is hard to be patient when you want something so bad, and it is difficult to be strong enough to be ok with that. Strength and patience go hand in hand. You cannot really have one without the other.
One of the few benefits of dealing with loss is that I feel music more intensely than before. When I play the guitar lately, I can sit for hours fingerpicking and trying to emulate the lessons I am learning from Lindsey Buckingham. When I finish, my left hand is sore with deep valleys in the tips of my fingers from pressing so hard, and the muscles in my arms are becoming so toned that friends are asking me if I have been working out.
I have always been told I am strong. Maybe I am. I can take a lot of pain and put up with a lot of bullsh&* before saying enough is enough. I can play the guitar for at least 2 hours straight before my arms and fingers cry out for me to stop and take a break, and I can stand up to people who talk down to me. But life is difficult and it is hard to be patient and strong all the time. Just like my muscles after a marathon practice session, I have moments in my life where I want to quit because it is so hard to be strong. Those are the moments when I have to remember to pause, pick up the guitar, and play. For just 2 hours, all of the stress in my life goes away, and I become just a little more patient.