Monthly Archives: March 2017

Live Performance

Recently I’ve attended several musical performances: a 19-year-old pianist in the local Young Pianist Concert Series, an up-and-coming organist, a visiting Russian pianist, a faculty recital at a nearby university, and the combined men’s choruses of two local universities. Each performer or conductor discussed their music with the audience before they played or sang. The concerts were excellent — as I expected. But that’s not the point.

The point is the “magic of presence.” Watching the performer appear on stage, noticing how they approach their instrument, observing their preparation to play, hearing the first sounds, absorbing their interpretation of the music, noticing the nuances and their musical dexterity, experiencing the unique connection of musician and composer, and inhaling the breath and life of the concert hall.

You see, there is no concert, no communication if you will, with only a performer. There must be an audience to receive the notes and phrases. Musicians make music every day in the privacy of their practice rooms — but that’s only preparation for the performance, the musical sharing and communication with others. Performance is live, with giver and receiver, with dynamics and interactions unique to the occasion. That particular performance can never occur again, even with the same performer playing the same music in the same hall with the same audience in attendance.

This “magic of live performance” is important in our non-musical conversations as well. Our texts and tweets and emails are the equivalent of looking at a sheet of music. We see the words, we see the dynamic markings in the formatting of the text, perhaps we can hear the person’s voice in the words if we know them well. But so much is missing — their actual voice, their body language, the twinkle or the tear in their eye, the wrinkle in their brow, the lilt of their words, the cadence of their speech, the rush, the pause, their eyes that engage us.

What I’m suggesting is

  • Listening to music lets you hear the notes but the rest of the communication is missing.
  • Tweeting, texting and emailing gives us the words, but eliminates nuances of non-written communication.
  • Reading a book is not the same as hearing the author read his/her words and witnessing their voice  and body language as an enhancement to their words.

Many of us only get to the first level of communication: we see notes in a score, words on a screen or page, hear music filling the background of our other activities. In fact, we often try to read and watch television at the same time, or put the music on to kill the silence, or think texting is real conversation.

We can do better.

Try a new venture this week:

  • attend an author-reading at your local library or bookstore
  • attend a live performance: theater, opera, a recital, a concert
  • visit with a friend, have face-to-face conversation with all electronic gadgets turned off.

Your life will be forever enriched by the live performances you participate in.

Until next Tuesday . . .

A Failure to Communicate

We landed in Ft. Lauderdale, a day prior to our cruise. The plane was on time and retrieving our luggage was quick.

With reservation in hand I called the hotel for their shuttle. “The driver is Eric,” the clerk said.  “He will be driving a white van with our phone number and logo on the side.” She verified the location where we were to wait.

We proceeded to the blue and white sign with the number 2 on it. Thirty minutes went by. Forty minutes.

I called the hotel. “The driver is stuck in traffic,” she said. “He will be there shortly.”

Another fifteen minutes went by — standing in the Florida heat with no convenient place to sit. We read the side of every shuttle that passed. Not one said Comfort Inn.

I called again. “He’s right there now picking you up,” she said.

“He’s not here unless he’s driving a Holiday Inn shuttle,” I replied, not so patiently.

“That’s him,” she said. I glanced at the side of his van and there was the phone number I had called. No Comfort Inn logo was visible.

“Are you Eric?” I said to the driver.

“Where have you been? I’ve been past here many times and could not find you.”

“We’ve been right here, waiting. Our reservation says Comfort Inn so we were looking for a van with that logo.”

“We are not the Comfort Inn,” he said, as he checked my reservation. “We are the Ft. Lauderdale Airport/Cruiseport and our name is about to change again.”

Assured this was the right van and the right driver, we got in, still wondering how it had all gone so wrong.

We arrived at the hotel, amidst cranes and scaffolding and construction trash. It reminded me of India, so many years ago: grey concrete, wood planks, the area in seemingly total disarray. Our travel agent had assured us that, though expensive, this was a good hotel. He had stayed there himself.

The lobby was barely large enough for the six of us who had arrived from the airport. I explained the confusion to the clerk about the hotel name. He had no explanation for error, then upgraded us to a suite. It was clearly a case of “failure to communicate.”

Perhaps the hotel name had changed after we made our reservation and before we arrived.

Perhaps someone forgot to change the name on one of the internet sites.

Perhaps it was the universe trying to dampen our enthusiasm for our cruise.

In retrospect, one thing could have prevented the problem. On the initial shuttle phone call, the clerk said their logo would be on the van. Had I verified the hotel name at that point, the problem would have been discovered and resolved. Never having had such a problem, it didn’t cross my mind to verify the name of the hotel. From hereon, I will double check.

We were grateful we arrived the day before our cruise, so the shuttle debacle had no impact on our trip, except for making dinner late.

By the next morning, the experience was behind us and remained untouched for the next eleven days.

Even the best organizational skills are no guarantee against failure to communicate.

Until next Tuesday . . .



Indy Bookstores

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of using our public libraries — a practice I’m working to reinstate in my life. It’s easy to assume we don’t need our libraries these days — we can find everything we need to know on the internet — or so it seems. But, deep inside, I believe the libraries are the custodians of our culture and wisdom and words and literature and adventure and thought and philosophy.

I have similar beliefs about independent bookstores. They seem to care about my experience before I even get there. They notice when I walk through the door. Staff favorites are highlighted on nearby shelves. They offer to help me find a book I might like, perhaps one I don’t even know about — yet. I yearn to stay longer than I have time for, because I like the way I feel in such stores. There I remember the sacredness of words on paper, words I can hold in my hand, words I can carry with me.

My favorite for many years has been Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville, NC. I love the books, the café, the aroma, the people wandering among the shelves, the small places to sit. It’s crowded sometimes, but I can tell by their actions, that each customer is a serious booklover. Malaprop’s mission statement says, “A place where the reader and book meet and a journey begins.” Yes, that’s why we read books — we want to go on a journey.

In my city Union Ave Books is a small store located on a downtown side street. When I’m there I want to linger, as I do in all indie bookstores. I want to discover what books they find important enough to put on their tables and shelves. Unlike the big box bookstores, the indies have to be selective in their choices. I like that.

I keep finding references to Nashville’s Parnassus Books, an indie store co-owned by author Ann Patchett. Their tag line reads, “An independent bookstore for independent people.” I like that. This spring I’m going to Nashville just to experience this store.

Like libraries, indie bookstores are not as convenient as Amazon. But they offer what Amazon cannot: personable service, selective presentation, literary atmosphere, staff recommendations, often a resident dog or cat, and a presence in our community. I don’t need or want them to offer everything to me — just a few good books.

As Ann Patchett says on the Parnassus site, “If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

Plan a visit to your local indie bookstore — and your library.

On my way home, with books in hand, I’m stopping by a local bakery for a taste of awesome and a cup-a-joe.

Until next Tuesday. . .

Swamp Survival

Making it across the swamp, all the way to solid ground, has been a scenario oft repeated in my life. I shared my original swamp story on this blog last week. That story has spawned much pondering and many conversations over the years — with family and friends and strangers.

Though details may vary, the realities of swamp stories are:

  • feeling lost
  • wandering in unfamiliar territory
  • fearing the unknown
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • being abandoned
  • lacking knowledge of how to proceed
  • unsure of survival
  • hopelessness

Maybe your life doesn’t feel like a swamp that threatens to suck you to its muddy bottom. Perhaps your life is more like a zoo, filled with interesting creatures at every turn, all demanding food and attention, and cages that need to be cleaned. Maybe it’s like the desert, where safe shelter and cool water are scarce, and loneliness covers you like the night sky. Or perhaps you’re in the forest, where all the trees look alike, the trail has disappeared, and the night noises steal your sleep.

So what’s a person to do when you feel abandoned and scared and have no idea if you’ll ever set foot on solid ground again?

1. Take courage and share your fear — even with a stranger. You’ll find you’re not the first person who’s been lost in a swamp.

2. Assess what you have — your life, a bit of energy, the ability to look ahead, perhaps just for a tree trunk to hold onto for a bit.

3. Rest — life looks better after we’ve allowed ourselves to be restored.

4. Move forward — there’s no value in continuing to look behind you at what has already been.

5. Check your boots — lest the swamp water flows in the top and sinks you.

6. Keep your lunch dry — guard carefully those things that nourish you, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. They are your lifeline.

You can make it to solid ground.

Until next Tuesday . . .