I love a new year. For some reason the tide of creativity always runs highest for me in January, when holiday making (in every sense of the word) is behind me. I don’t make resolutions, and certainly wouldn’t proclaim such publicly if I did, but I do get ideas. Lots of ideas. I think about things, many many things, over the last few days of December and, in January, all those ideas come bubbling up to the surface, spilling over. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week:
I saw a thing on TV, many years ago, about a retired guy who had taken up the violin. He used to play as a child and now that he was retired, with plenty of time on his hands to practice, he’d decided to pick up the instrument again. He was finding the learning process much easier this second time around for two reasons. First, he still had a muscle memory from playing all those years ago, and his fingers knew what to do; how to wrap around the neck of the instrument, and how to hold a bow. Second, he was learning to play using the Suzuki method, which strives to create high ability through use of a nurturing environment. That method wasn’t around when he was a kid, and this new way of learning made all the difference. It meant he got to skip all the boring old music theory stuff, and just concentrate on coaxing lovely sound from his violin.
I can vouch for muscle memory, as I’ve seen it in action. My youngest son, Zach, is a talented musician, who’s skill at the guitar was honed during a rather expensive college education, but is largely due to the fact that he started playing young, at the age of 11 or 12, and stuck with it. His playing undoubtedly improves when he practices, but he’ll keep the skill for life, regardless of how much time he spends at it weekly. His fingers know what to do. He has created a muscle memory that will always be with him.
Like the nameless retired gentleman, I also learned to play the violin as a child. Unlike him, I began with the Suzuki method. The method did teach me to read music, sort of, and sort of not. The skill isn’t based on a knowledge of music theory. It’s relative to the instrument, where a symbol – a black oval, placed at a specific point on five lines of a music staff – means “Put this finger on that string and hold the note for so long.” Not a lot of deep theory in the Suzuki technique, at least not at first, but from this easy first step it’s a relatively short hop to the making of actual music.
I’ve been thinking about playing the violin again. That’s all. Just thinking. Wondering if my fingers remember how to wrap around an instrument, and coax sweet music from its depths. ((There is, according to Tonia, a Welsh idiom, “Take your fiddle from the attic.” In my case the meaning is literal – if I still had a fiddle, I’d be getting it out about now – but the phrase generally means a dusting off of any old skill, and a return to doing something that you once loved.))
I’ve also been thinking about drawing and lettering, and making some kind of marks in a notebook, daily. I found a new source of inspiration, Woolgathering, linked to in Christine Kane’s blog. ((I played one Christine’s songs in the last podcast, and she left a note of thanks. You’re welcome, Christine. My pleasure. I hope many people will use the handy link in the show notes, and purchase your music. It’s wonderful. )) The name of this new-to-me-as-of-this-morning blog should alone explain why I felt driven to investigate.
I hesitate to use a qualifier in describing Woolgathering. (Art blog? Sketching blog?) I haven’t spent quite enough time there yet, and don’t know the story. But it is, quite simply, a delicious collection of sketches and short posts that seem to fall under the heading of “noticing.” I love the way these sketches treat a two page spread in a notebook as a single space. I love the generous use of white space around the sketches. I love that each drawing tells a story, even if it’s just a short one. And I really love this post, from December 27 of this year: “Four years ago today, I bought a sketchbook and began to draw…”
There is a link in the post to a little video of her drawings from the first month, but I haven’t watched it. I thought it might be interesting to see where she began but, upon reflection, I don’t think I want to. It’s enough for me to know that the artist was brave, and she began. I also know myself well enough to realize that if I watched the video, comparisons with my own beginnings would be inevitable. I remember Simon’s Rules from yoga class, “Wear loose clothing, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.” Wise words. It’s enough for now to just think about beginnings, and let ideas bubble up and spill over onto the page.