Put the effort in

I have recently written about the internet stealing our future selves over at Fem-tellectual, it is based on Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home UK US

While some more passive forms of leisure, such as watching TV or surfing the Internet, are fun in the short term, over time, they don’t offer nearly the same happiness as more challenging activities.

Or as she says in the Happiness Project UK US – “an environment of growth brings happiness”.

I played the flute a little as a child, I originally started on clarinet, but I found it too heavy and my fingers were too skinny to cover the bottom holes, so they put me onto the flute! But I never really practiced a great deal and I found it all a bit of a chore. I went on to play the drums, including doing 4 grades (why would you do grades in drums!) and I was even in a band as the drummer. I don’t think we had any gigs, but that wasn’t the point. I also did a lot of singing – even performing in choirs and as a singer in a band.

That all stopped when I left for uni, mainly I think as I was intimated by all those people who were proper singers and musicians with grade 8.

As an adult I had flute lessons for a while and then moved and never started again. Then I tried again a few years ago and did my grade 3 exam. I HATE all forms of tests and examinations, I panic, pass out, thrown up and generally get myself in a bit of a state. So, although I was reassured by my teacher that I should get a high distinction I barely scraped a pass. It didn’t help of course that everyone else doing grade 3 (bear in mind that grades are 1-8) was 10 years old or so. I stuck out somewhat.

It bought back ballet exams when I was really little where I had it in my head that the next thing I had to do was the improvisation bit and kept walking over to the rose sticker on the floor ready to be begin and the examiners had to repeatedly tell me to go back to where I was.

So, I stopped my flute lessons.

Since I have been having to readjust where I spend my energies  I have been playing my kantele (a Finnish lap harp) and ukulele. I have been enjoying playing and moodling around. However during a Twitter conversation with fellow EDS-ers I found out about concert bands and after some googling found my local one – Harmonie in Rayleigh.

After some email conversation I went along and purposely didn’t take my flute so I could just listen and not worry about having to play, especially as my husband had just retrieved my flute from the attic a couple of days before hand. The music was great -the theme is Heros and Villians, which is right up my street!

So a couple of weeks later I am still going. The music is tough. They recommend you are a grade 5 before you join and I can really see why. I am putting a huge amount of practice in at home to keep up.

I feel like I am reading a novel in French, and I still speak GCSE French. I can manage with the dictionary, but it is slow, labourious work and I keep getting confused by the grammar and context. I have started flute lessons again so I am getting extra help and I explained this analogy to my teacher, who completely understood. I asked him for the musical equivalent of vocabulary lists, conjugating verbs and some basic conversation lesson, but in music. Again he understood and this is what I now have, in addition to the pieces.

What is interesting is that very quickly I am seeing an improvement in my playing. I never had this motivation as a child, it was all about the grades (WHY DO WE DO THIS???) and as you can tell, I fear exams. I love my practice at home now, it is frustrating at times and I get in a pickle over phrases. But I am getting better, and I think I have improved as much in the last few weeks as I have ever done in my life. The tone quality is improving too.

Muscle memory is taking much longer to build up than it used to and playing the flute seems to use up quite a large amount of energy and also manual dexterity. I have a tendancy to drop things for a few hours after playing. A side effect of the H-EDS/JHS. But worth it I think.

But, when I am at band practice and it all comes together and I am playing with the band, rather than struggling to keep up, oh that moment is priceless to me.

I guess this is partly a message to my younger self, keep practicing the things you want to be able to do, hard work does pay off. But also a plea to music educators – I don’t know if the grade thing is a still a focus in individual lessons, but please put the emphasis on being able to play with other people. Which reminds me of a quote from Grease by Madge the hapless secretary. “It is better to play with others than by yourself”. Snark aside, this is so true, and so is the truism that anything worth having takes effort.

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