The earliest memory of music for a musician is probably going to be the one which inspired them to embark on the journey into music. Some experience that was strong enough to be tagged in the vast array of our brain’s amygdala, the storehouse of emotional memory in our brain.
My earliest was when I was 5 or 6 years old, squished in amongst the High School youth group that my father led in our living room (he was an associate pastor at a Presbyterian church in Chicago). This was in the easly 70s when Christian folk songs like Pass It On and others from the musical Godspell were beginning to make their way into homes around the country. I can distinctly remember the vibration — of being surrounded by love, hearts that were open, and the simple experience of Joy.
For any young aspiring musician, I imagine that there must be a strong memory in each of their childhoods that encouraged them to forge through the tediousness of practice and long rehearsals. Some primal reminder, keeping the fire of inspiration lit, reigniting dedication, dreams, and aspirations.
For without such a memory, how can we possibly believe in something that we’ve only been told is one of the greatest opportunities that life has to offer? Without some kind of direct experience of inspiration we would constantly be asking ourselves, “why on earth am I doing this?”
At 6 I took up the cello, and although my heart would close up dramatically in my teenage years, I would would never abandon playing. My initial momentum, supported by my ego’s desire to see how good I could become, took me into pursuing music at the Eastman School of Music.
My wake up call came during my Senior year. The other cellists I was surrounded by were just as good and some even better than I was. Very soon we would all be competing for jobs that were already very scarce. Even the jobs themselves didn’t seem that enticing, and my experience of them was not positive. Upon first playing in semi pro orchestras, I was disheartened by the cynicism, bitterness, and distinct lack of inspiration that I found prevalent there.
“Why on earth am I doing this?!”
I stumbled into my next lesson, completely flummoxed and unpracticed. My teacher, Paul Katz, was kind, patient, and encouraged me to look into my heart.
My what? Huh? I don’t get it — what does my heart have to do with anything?
Only later did I understand that it has everything to do with it — not the vague heart of likes and dislikes, but the strong dynamic presence of love and joy that only the heart can feel.
I made my way through graduation, and even through a Master’s degree program at Indiana University, only to have to once again face the daunting future awaiting me. I had fortunately won the principal cello positions in two regional orchestras but still my heart remained closed as a rock.
I was tight, miserable, and searching for joy in all the wrong places, and it wasn’t long until I had a major spiritual breakdown. This prompted a search for meaning, for understanding of what my life was all about.
It wasn’t until I literally walked in the doors of my spiritual home-to-be (Ananda), that my heart was cracked open, accompanied by a flood of unstoppable tears. For here was that long lost but so dynamically present vibration of joy, of love, that I had long dismissed as something belonging to a childhood experience.
How many of us have had direct experiences of joy at a young age only to be archived, thinking them unsuitable for life in the real world? Life convinces so many of us to shut down our hearts, protect ourselves from hurt, and put away dreams that can easily be deemed — merely by fear of failure — unattainable.
Our greatest responsibility is not only to hold on to our cherished experiences of inspiration, whenever they happen to come in our lives, but to everyday foster, cultivate, and make real the experience of joy, of some power greater than ourselves coming through us and lifting our consciousness into higher realms.
We must approach each practice, rehearsal, and performance, as an opportunity to foster that innate joy that patiently waits, within our slumbering consciousness, to be awakened and rekindled anew.
Time to go practice.