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Notes from the Field

It is, perhaps, all there is

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I have had my share of tragedy and sadness in life. Not significantly more than most and much less then many. My point is not to get sympathy, but to share a few things I have figured out.

Limited resources due to unforseen life events taught me at a relatively early age that experiences are better things to pursue than possessions. Experiences cannot be stolen by thieves or lost through carelessness, or divorce, or destroyed in a hurricane, or repossessed by the bank.

So I continued on in smugness, acquiring many really great really cool experiences and feeling accomplished.

Then I was hit over the head by my experience with elderly family members. I learned, with a real shock, that even experiences are vulnerable, and can be lost. One well traveled family member told me, as dementia knocked on her door, that instead of family and travel pictures from her past, we should show her cool pictures of all kinds of exotic places and just tell her she was there.

But we are not left with nothing. We have the moment. The infinite moment. And in that moment we have it. That the moment is not permanent or indestructible does not subtract from the infinite joy we can have in that moment.

Being loved is such a moment. Coffee with a friend is such a moment, and if you don’t like your blissful moments dependant on the arbitrary and capricious behavior of others, there are the moments available in great literature.

Well, getting around to the point, and its about time too, we musicians have some unique access to infinite moments. We can play music just about whenever we want, and conjure up a kind of indestructible wealth. A wealth of sudden beauty, and sudden joy.

A tune is a kind of adventure, with wonderful moments. We can hang on a dominant seventh chord waiting seemingly forever to be resolved, and after coming back to earth with the tonic we can just get back on that water slide again. And again.

We can play music with friends, and share the immersion. To collectively dissolve into the whole ensemble, momentarily losing our selves, and becoming one with the tune. To suddenly realize that the duality of self and other is and can be a myth. An infinite moment in a finite amount of time.

And there is no better moment than in a heated jam to be surprisingly capable of raising a smile on another musicians face, suddenly sharing an appreciation. Or even to raise a smile or even a tear from an audience member, and create a momentary connection with total stranger, every bit as meaningful as any other connections but for its duration. Impermanent beauty like that of an ice sculpture.

And we can surprise ourselves with sudden competence, realizing suddenly we have not consulted the sheet music for half a page, or that we nailed that fast part without thinking about it, or looking down and seeing our left hand fingers doing such amazing gymnastics we wonder if it is our own left hand.

Or the otherworldly beauty of a new tune just learned, just captured, just achieved. Being there while the tune is reincarnated into the sonic dimension, by our own arm and heart and brain.

Look, it is real hard right now for many of us. Not just the loss and struggle, but indeed philosophically - deciding what is concrete and what is sand, deciding where to put our treasure, if not our hearts.

Let me recommend the "here and now" we can access through our unique status as musicians; the myriad of moments our music playing can create for us. The “be here now” moment often referred to, but clear eyed and sober this time.

OK, it is not a stable economic situation, it is not a promise of health, or housing or love or security. But, of all the things we have, it seems me it is all we really have.

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Updated Nov-18-2020 at 5:15pm by JeffD



  1. catmandu2's Avatar
    Hey Jeff, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I believe you are right in that many (more) people are currently facing existential issues that, probably, are mostly avoided throughout a privileged life; there's nothing like a "near death experience" to shock the mind out from its doldrums and into a state of reflection, self-assessment, and appreciation. Jung said that this shift in perception is what's most essential. I tend to concur.

    This is why Art is of eminent value, sacred, for it is the domain of understanding. Music, as you point out, is especially potent - as it can be all of those things you mention. We live in a culture of visual bias, but music is perhaps the most elegant and closest analog - to our temporal, beautiful, tragic existence. Keep playing/searching. cat
    Updated Nov-18-2020 at 4:56pm by catmandu2
  2. 2Points's Avatar
    Thank you Jeff.
    You've nailed it for me, and, I suspect, many others.
    Playing music has become very important to me these last few years, pulled me through some troubled times and brought me a lot of joy and new friendships. It is true that if you want to get into a flow state, trying to learn or play music is a great way to get there. Playing with others develops a type of synchronicity that is unique and rare; in order to play music you must be present with each other.
    Thank you. You are profound and write well.
  3. Sue Rieter's Avatar
    That's beautiful, Jeff.

    I lost my wonderful Mom to dementia not many years ago. Her love for music was the last to fade.

    And catmandu2, I couldn't agree with you more:

    ...Art is of eminent value, sacred, for it is the domain of understanding
  4. Kevin Winn's Avatar
    Thank you, Jeff. Always good to be reminded of what playing music can bring to life. And to hold it lightly...
  5. Cary Fagan's Avatar
    Fine thoughts, beautifully expressed