Plays Well with Others

This is not something, I suspect, that any of my teachers would ever have said of me when I was growing up.  I cordially despise all team sports, particularly those involving chasing a ball around a large field; I feel awkward and uncomfortable at the thought of most large parties; I'm not terribly good at sharing my work, even now with Prof. Boice's advice to spend as much time socializing around writing as one does writing.  But there is one thing that I always, always, always wanted to do when I was growing up and somehow never had the chance to try: play music with other musicians.

Sure, there were one or two times when I was somehow co-opted into providing a piano accompaniment for someone else's singing (e.g. once at church for the littler kids), but they were absolute disasters.  I didn't want to be leading the music, to be responsible for providing the tune; I wanted (I now realize) to be singing along.  Which one can't when playing the piano, at least not in my experience.  Playing the piano meant (for me) always playing alone or (even worse) playing alone with other people listening and thus having no cover whatsoever for one's mistakes (which, under the circumstances, only multiplied).  The one time I tried, in effect, playing with others by singing in the church choir was an even greater disaster: my piano teacher was also the church choir director, and after giving me one voice lesson she concluded that I was never going to be able to carry a tune and kicked me out (I was 9, maybe 10).

So, growing up, all I could do was yearn.  I was especially jealous of the kids in the orchestra, particularly (you guessed it) the violinists.  Such beautiful music they were able to play!  But, even better, they got to do it in a group.  Me, I would go home and practice my piano by myself, only getting more and more miserable the better I played, knowing somehow (although I couldn't quite articulate it then) that I was missing the very thing I most wanted, made all the more gut-wrenching when I would try to play with others (e.g. once or twice in college, when the piano was in the College commons) and couldn't keep up with the tune (no matter that what tunes we tried playing together were much, much simpler than anything I could play on my own). 

Have you seen the video of the Sabadell flashmob playing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"?  How can one listen to such music without wanting to be able to sing or to play?  When the violins came out, I wanted to weep.  Yes yes yes!  I want to be able to play music like that, not all by myself at the piano, but one of a hundred voices singing with joy!  I have always been a little irritated listening to jazz musicians play--they can be so self-absorbed, as if they don't even care if anybody else is listening--and now I realize why: they don't care, and I want to be playing, not just sitting there, apart from the music, apart from the joy.  (There is potentially another post in here, about how I don't particularly like being a spectator, which could explain my aversion to team sports as well as parties, but let's keep with the music.) 

And so, somewhat surprisingly, given my apparent aversion to playing with others, this is one of the things I like best about how I am now learning to play the violin, a.k.a. fiddle: I get to play with a group.  Sure, all we can play together at the moment is tunes along the lines of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Cluck Old Hen," but do you have any idea how much sheer fun it is to sit there on Saturday in the basement of the Old Town School of Folk Music playing "Cluck Old Hen" over and over and over again with four other fiddles?  No matter how many mistakes any one of us makes, the music goes on, the music goes on, and if you fall off the tune (as one inevitably does, being a beginner), you just pick your chicken up and hop back in.  At one point, our teacher left us to go get a banjo so that he could accompany us.  As he left, he told us just to keep playing--which we did for far longer than probably even he had expected us to (he couldn't find the banjo, and came back in the end with a guitar).  And when he came back, there we were, still playing.  Still playing.  The music had picked us up and carried us along.  Then he started playing along with us on the guitar and it only got better.  When we finally stopped with that song, I couldn't help myself.  No matter that I had made just as many mistakes (if not more) as everybody else, all I could think--and exclaim--was: "That was so much fun!"

Who'd've thunk it?  I do play well with others after all.


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