Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Forgetting the Notes

In an attempt to rekindle my love of the flute (an instrument I started playing nearly 20 years ago) I recently joined a Middle Eastern ensemble class. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but figured I had nothing to lose.

Upon entering the classroom I quickly felt out of my element as my eyes darted around at the exotic instruments. I sat down and slowly assembled my flute. The same flute I've had since sixth grade. My metallic instrument shone brightly in sharp contrast to the intricately crafted wooden nay, kanun and ouds. 

But, with the first note I began.  

Many in the class had played with this ensemble before. I, on the other hand, was sight reading each piece. I was preoccupied with playing every note. On understanding how to create quarter tones. On counting each measure. On being perfect.

During one of our sessions my teacher glanced around. With our noses buried deep in the sheet music he shook his head and waved us to stop. “Forget the notes,” he said. “The soul of Middle Eastern music is found in the flourishes, the improvisations. It’s beauty comes from playing something the audience doesn't expect, but upon hearing is deeply moved. Learn the notes. Then forget them.”

I’ve loved each beautiful piece we’ve played, but the biggest gift from this class came in the form of my teacher’s words. I tend to approach life the same way I approached this class. I read each note and agonize over every measure, to do exactly what’s written. To strive for perfection.   

If I’ve learned anything thus far it’s that I don’t know anything. And in this new decade of my life it’s time to forget what’s written and start improvising. For that is where the real beauty and richness is found. 

If life is my audience then I will do my best to move its soul. 

MSU Band Camp Nerd

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