Our anniversary is on the 25th, but we've decided that it should be like the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and extend over several events on several days. So although yesterday was the 21st, we opened the anniversary jubilee with a concert by Tommy Emmanuel at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Aside from being an astonishingly good player, he's also an embodiment of joy. It's clear that playing music brings him a fulfillment that most of us achieve only rarely.
As part of his show, he does a little teaching. Not one-on-one with a student on stage, but he walked us through how he developed and learned to play a particular arrangement of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna," in which he simultaneously plays the bass and the melody. He figured out two bars. Slowly. And he practiced those for a long time, slowly and badly, until he'd got them under control. Then he moved to the next two bars, and did the same thing. He really wanted to encourage all of us that we can do remarkable things if we do them with patience.
If I can shorthand his rules for learning, they'd be something like this.
- Every time you learn something new, you're asking your fingers to do something they haven't ever done before. And they can't, yet.
- You're practicing. You're not making music. The music comes later, once the skills are established.
- Don't let anybody hear you practice. It's not enjoyable for them, and it adds a layer of self-critique and expectation that gets in the way.
- Repetition is the only way to learn a skill.
He also told us a little about his early career. I'd already known that his father started a family band when Tommy and his brother Phil were still in grade school, and that he was playing public shows when he was six. But after his dad died when he was eleven, he was a little rootless. "When I was fifteen, I ran away from home, to move to the city and be a guitar player. I didn't want to be around bullies any more, so I left them."
There's a sharp clarity to that decision. This is what I want. The other kids and the teachers in my rural community don't get it. So let me do what I need to do to get to what I want. It's amazing to consider how easy some choices can be if you focus on your goals.
The problem is that our goals are complex and mixed. We want A... but we also want B, and C, and R, and J. I read once in a planning journal that "we all want social, walkable communities, but we also want our cars, and we want a big lawn... You don't get what you want; you get what you want most."
I know a lot of folks who are waiting to do what they want. "In a few years, I'll be able to..." "Once I retire, I can..." "If my job wasn't so demanding, I could..." And yes, there are demands, and there are obligations, and there are comforts. But I think, if we're patient and focused and consistently choose what we want from our deepest core, that there's a Tommy Emmanuel inside all of us. We can do remarkable things, if we do them.