I play a lot of classical music with a small group of friends—an artist, a poet, a lawyer, and an epidemiologist—who are amateur musicians like I am. We meet most weeks at one of our houses, and play in various combinations of 3, 4, and 5 instruments, strings and piano, depending on who is available. A potluck meal often follows our ensemble music. Occasionally we might even perform a short piece for husbands and others who join us for dinner.
We are “women of a certain age” (in our 50s and 60s), and when we gather, there’s a lot to take care of before any actual playing gets done.
First there’s the news of our lives to be shared—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Commiseration flows freely. So does wine. We snack on crackers, goat cheese, and sun-dried tomato spread.
Then we organize our music stands. Violist Laura must coax her origami-folded portable stand into full size by opening its parts in a particular sequence. She will not be defeated.
We set up extra lights and look for our music glasses. Reading sheet music requires not near- or far-vision but something in between, to see notes about an arm’s length away (a little farther for Daphne, a cellist). Many middle-aged musicians buy a separate pair of glasses just for this purpose. But our special glasses help us only if we can find them.
The violinists adjust for comfort: Anne removes the earrings and necklace that interfere when she tucks the instrument under her chin; Theresa needs a quick massage to work out a knot in her back. I locate a cushion for my sore hip.
Everyone finally ready, we debate what piece to play, and what tempo to play it. I set a metronome at the (loosely) agreed-upon speed, and place it in a spot where everyone can hear the ticking of the beats over the sound of the instruments.
As do the interruptions. Our cell phones ring with the pressing questions of partners and adult children: Where are my keys? How do I boil the pasta you left out for dinner? Where did you hide the chocolate? When will you be home?
Oven timers go off and demand our attention; pets ask to be fed. And one memorable evening, a ringing doorbell completely derailed us.
Oh darn, hope Significant Other will get that so we can keep playing.
Please, someone answer the door so we can keep playing.
Unable to ignore the bell, Anne got up to answer it. And in doing so, in a space crowded with musicians and their paraphernalia, she bumped a little end table, on which sat a full glass of red wine. The memory runs like a slow-motion cartoon in my mind: the glass tips, Laura lunges for it, too late, wine launches onto off-white carpeting, couch, and wall. Who was at the door? A man selling magazine subscriptions.
We give in to these interruptions, to the people and things competing for our attention. We allow our time to be fractured and our concentration compromised. I can’t figure out why.
Once in a while though, phones remain silent and family members look after themselves, and the music carries us to a state of deep focus and single-minded immersion called “flow.” Briefly, the music is our world.
When that happens, we celebrate the achievement by raising the wine glasses we keep at our side. One spectacular spill hasn’t change that.
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.