"Listen to the music... Music is all around us. Listen for it. Seek it out. Know you're welcome to join in. Don't worry about how well you carry a tune or whether you know all the words. You've been invited to the campfire. Come. Sing along. You'll have the time of your life."
- Melody Beattie
Herbie Hancock’s memoir, Possibilities, begins with a story that takes place in the 1960s when Hancock is playing piano with the Miles Davis Quintet. He describes that particular show as magical. The musicians are totally in synch all night and the audience sits enthralled on the edge of their seats. At the peak of the show, Davis begins gearing up for his solo. The other musicians lead him in and just when Davis’ solo is about to really take off, Hancock hits a chord that he describes as “just so wrong”. After what has been a perfect set, Hancock thinks he has ruined the whole thing. At the same moment Hancock made up his mind about his disastrous ‘mistake’, Davis takes another cue. Davis began to exhale into the trumpet and continues to play his solo in an unexpected way that made Hancock’s chord sound totally right.
Hancock explains in his memoir that Davis had no judgement of the chord as right or wrong but continued to create music out of what was there in front of him. Davis was simply and elegantly living in the moment. Sounds easy when we say it like that, right? All this ‘living in the moment without judgement ’ stuff? Clearly, it’s not so easy to do.
I see my four year old son at the crux of a stage in life where he is beginning to judge his actions as right and wrong. The other night, we were singing the alphabet, a song he has been perfectly happy to sing incorrectly (or, at least how most would define his rendition) for well over a year, mumbling through the letters. This time he sang the song as he traced the letters across the page of a book. After three attempts, his finger kept ending up on the ‘p’ when his voice ended up on the 's'. He didn't realize he was leaving out the ‘n’. For a four -year-old, L-M-N-O is a tricky run. He got frustrated and slammed his hand on the page, refusing to sing the song.
Right and wrong are not fixed ideas. They are decided based on time, place, and culture, so right and wrong cannot be the markers we use to judge ourselves or anyone else. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ do not allow us to see beyond ourselves, to something that is greater than our little mistake in that moment. If we judge our actions as totally right or totally wrong, how can we continue on playing beautiful out of tune music when we are full of inhibitions, preconceptions, and patterns that we have played in the past? Can we be easy on ourselves and see this growth, not as a colossal muck up but as simply a new direction or an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of where we are in that moment?
When we make efforts to learn new things, we inevitably end up developing a greater awareness of the world, and we inevitably end up seeing where we must have gone 'wrong' in the past when we did not have such a broad perspective. These are unavoidable stages of learning. Our past 'rights' will turn into our present 'wrongs' and our present 'rights' will be our future 'wrongs' with little exception.
Davis' ability to roll with the unexpected did not come without practice. I don't know when Davis learned the alphabet but he began to play the trumpet at thirteen years old, eventually got accepted into Julliard and not long after, dropped out. We are all capable of taking a breath and redirecting ourselves. It didn't take long before my four year old got through his frustration and attempted to sing again and nailed the song. But, his success was not in getting his letters right but in his ability to surrender and begin again. Learning the alphabet is no small thing, although I do hope that my son continues to find more than one way to sing the alphabet.
Image from: overblog