Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.10- Seeing Differently- Lessons from the Eclipse

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

What you see in a total eclipse is entirely different from what you know.
-Annie Dillard

I have often commented here about the need to connect our music and our lives. What we learn in one area can and should make a difference in the other. We have talked about that at Trumpet Workshop a number of times. Most of us are not going to be full-time professional musicians. We are going to be full-time something, however. The skills we use at one can be applied to the others.

It was with that in mind that I realized that there was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reflect on a total solar eclipse and figure out what I could learn from it. So I did the following:
  • Planning
    • Check dates, clear calendar, coordinate with family
  • Waiting
    • In between decision and the event, there will always be waiting. You can’t avoid it so how do you best utilize the time?
  • Researching
    • Find the path, find a city, find a motel,
  • Finalize plans and equipment
    • What kind of filters will I need for photography, what might I want to make sure I have ready,
    • What plans can I make for a Plan B?
  • Practicing
    • Take the cameras out with the filters, get pictures and video, work on how different settings will impact the final product.
Here, then, in a slightly longer than usual post is the result.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It is the day- August 21, 2017. We have come to Kansas City, just on the southern edge of totality. We get up early to get to where we plan to watch the eclipse, Lathrop, a small town in western Missouri where the local Baptist church (among many others) has set up parking. We plan on getting there between the early rush and the later one to give us time to relax and be ready. Here, with later additions, is what I wrote during the next four and a half hours:

  • 9:00 E(clipse)-2h 40m Sitting watching the clouds. Heat and humidity in the morning sun. But oh—oh that solid cloud deck! Weather Channel app on my phone says it is cloudy now but should clear. People from Oklahoma, Minnesota, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin around us. Sixteen cars to a row, maybe 10 rows of cars in a field at the local Baptist Church’s north campus. Cameras on tripods, fancy reflecting telescopes, folding chairs, here and there a tent or canopy. I set up my cameras and take a couple of pictures to show the sky and the full sun.
  • 10:00 E-1h 40m Took a walk around the grounds. One of the attendants told me some people wanted to be here early to get a good viewing spot! “I don’t want anything in my way.” “But lady,” he added, “just look up.” “But can we leave when its done?” since some places are having all kinds of other activities. The attendant pulled up the yellow plastic tape they used to mark off the parking area. “Just tear it,” he said as he shook his head in disbelief.
  • 10:18 E-1h 20m
    Rain and thunder for about ten minutes. Now what? Looks like it could clear to the west.
  • 10:41 E-1h Still overcast and sprinkling with thunder. Storms popping up. Will it or won't it? Looking less hopeful. I want to cry.
  • 11:09 T(otality)-2h Not looking hopeful. But keeping the feeling of hope alive. This can still happen if only for part of the Eclipse. Washington Post just said it is starting in Oregon. Bring the sunshine with you, please. Should I try to figure out a Plan B or just stick with what I have planned?
  • 11:25 E-15m Dare I say that it looks like some possible clearing to the west? I would hate to jinx it. It is still not out of the question?!?! Just don't say it out loud. A field full of eclipse watchers holds our collective breath.
  • 11:30 E-10m The rain has stopped!? Sky brightening. Walked over and bought us a lunch. Now we will see if we have anything to see.
  • 11:54 E+15m My first chance to see the eclipse.
    The clouds clear. I zoom the cameras, take my first pictures, start the video. It is happening.
  • 12:45 We’ve had a relatively good run of clear skies. Almost a full hour of variable clouds and sun. I have paid attention to the advice from a photographer I read during my research: “Take your eye away from the viewfinder and watch the eclipse itself. You may never see anything like it again and you would hate to miss it.” I took five short videos totaling about 25 minutes of different points in the eclipse. It is amazing to watch it. I have seen a number of lunar eclipses but this is different. This is the sun being blocked. It is a “crescent sun.” I have also been watching the clouds to the west and southwest. They are the real thing. My heart sinks as I come to realize that they are moving faster than the moon. They will be the eclipse I see.
  • 12:52 T-15 Clouds finally move in.
    I take my last picture before totality. It will be the last regular picture I take. I hold my camera at ready. I take the filters off both cameras- just in case. We will have to see what we can see here. There is no Plan B.
  • 1:09 Totality- and clouds. We watched it get darker and cooler. People were quiet, still, perhaps sharing a moment of sadness or grief along with the amazement. Many of us have traveled to see this and now we won’t. I watched the clouds get darker. It begins to look like a tornado storm, but it is the shadow of the moon crossing the earth, approaching us. It is not like sunset- it moves much faster than that. It gets dark quickly.
  • 1:09 - 1:13-
    I start the video camera to get shots of the horizon in its odd colors where the clouds have broken. As promised it is a 360 degree sunset in a purplish hue. I start a video pan to catch what I can. Then, just as I was about to turn it off and start packing up, a small break in the clouds. Third contact (the moving of the moon from the sun) has past; totality is over. The darkness on the other side of the clouds has moved southeast. For a moment there is the sliver of the sun. [Looking at the video later I am amazed at watching the darkness move across the clouds, more visible in a speeded up video. I will be putting a video together in the next week of the experience.]
  • 1:20
    Heading back to our motel in bumper to bumper traffic. Making as much as 12 mph (mostly less) for over half of the trip. It took 2 1/2 hours to make the 40 miles we had done in 45 minutes that morning.
We were home by Thursday and I was coping with sadness and depression. The long-awaited and dreamed of event was over. I was still bummed. I had done all the right things to get ready:

• Planning
• Waiting
• Researching
• Practicing

And it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. It was out of my hands. I did my part to be at the right place at the right time, but that’s as far as I could go. So it goes. Powerless!

On Thursday evening I watched a cloudy sunset and realized how different it was from what I saw on Monday. New reflections began to ease the sadness. I began to explain to others what I saw and heard. Their amazement at what had happened that they didn’t get a chance to see touched me. I began to understand that I did get to see a good deal of the eclipse, my experience of the eclipse.

In other words, by Thursday I had to come to grips with what this event was going to mean for me. I decided, by action and intuition that I had to have my story to tell about the eclipse since I was there. A solar eclipse IS a big deal. But I had two choices:

1) Be a whiner, live in sadness and despair and depression that here was this incredible chance and it passed me by. Poor me! or
2) Reflect on what I DID experience in this rare opportunity. The eclipse did not pass me by. I saw the moon moving across the sun. I was with all those people locked in a common purpose and event. I was right there in the middle of totality as it happened. The world darkened; the temperature dropped; birds returned to their nests; humans stood in awe. It truly was something that felt out of this world.

As asked by the wondrous book and movie, Life of Pi, "which is the better story?" Which story includes hope and belief, wonder and meaning? That’s a no-brainer!

Now, a week later, I am excited by what I have experienced. The more I have talked about it, looked at some of my video, and listened to other people’s experiences, the truth of Annie Dillard’s words at the top of this post sink in. What I saw in this eclipse was different from everything I have ever known, even to the point of not seeing the totality but being impacted by it.
  • What happens in an eclipse is this-
    • Our normal way of seeing things is blocked.
    • The sun is gone, covered by the moon.
All that we think we know about the world shifts, if only for the few minutes of totality. We are forced to react and respond differently, even if we know what is happening. It is not hard to imagine what people without the scientific and technological resources would think about a total solar eclipse. It can feel like the world is coming to an end.

Here then are my initial thoughts and learnings:

• Do the necessary footwork!
• Be open for the surprises that are there, even when they aren’t what you expected. Which in reality is most of the time.
• Let the moment be real and allow it to soak in to your own psyche.
• Be aware of your story and know that you can choose how you respond to what is happening.
• Choose the better story, the one that will stand the test of time and that you will be telling into the future.
• In the end I was forced by the clouds to take my eye away from the camera and watch the eclipse- and I am better for it.

Let’s translate that to our musicianship.

The Footwork:
Do the day in and day out work to become the musician (or whatever) you want to become. How many times can I play an opening exercise of long tones or those early Arban’s exercises? One more time than I already have! I will never reach the end. It will always be “one more.” Listen to music; read about it; learn the ins and outs of it.

The Surprises:
I will never know that solo or song or ensemble piece perfectly. I need to be open at each moment for the music itself to tell me what I need to know. That’s where Self Two can begin to take over and allow me to feel, hear, and internalize the music.

The Moment:
Which moment is the most important? The one you are in right now. Is it practicing? Make it good practice. Is it performance preparation? Mindfulness. Being in the moment and letting it happen. I played in a concert last Friday evening. I allowed the music to be present within me. I heard parts of the pieces that I had never heard before since we were outside, in a different venue. Those were the surprises. So was how I felt I was playing. Self Two was definitely as work. What a moment!

Your Story-The Better Story:
This happens after The Moment. This is the reflection on what has happened. Call it debriefing or evaluation, or awareness, this is where you make sense of what has happened and place it into its proper context. It may be that your solo went better than you hoped- or not as good as you wanted. What do you learn from that? Will it stop you from another solo or will you see that it can be different next time?

Take your eye away:
That eye is often Self One ready and willing to criticize us, tell us we can do it better- or that we can never do it right. Take your eye away from the technical and just play. Just do it. Relax and “play” in all the broad meanings of that wonderful word.

Enjoy. If you have done the footwork and practice and research, it will happen.

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