By training, I am a classical musician. I know there is a reason musicians play scales. And I’m very familiar with sitting alone in a room, only my instrument and a metronome for company, playing scales for hours -- varying rhythm and dynamic a bit, just to keep things interesting. But still, just scales over and over and over again; the building blocks of the foundation. And as a musician, you can always tell who doesn’t practice their scales. It’s obvious. (Just like you can always tell who doesn’t know their history, by repetition of mistakes). There is a pedagogical logic to the way things have been done; often both for mind and body’s health.
Art is never instantly gratifying -- in fact, it’s a hell of a lot of ungratifying work. Amazing paintings, beautiful symphonies, and great works of literature, were (I assure you) painful to create -- as Shakespeare’s Beatrice says, my mother cried. And even when they are “finished,” after their birth, the artist rarely utters the contented sigh of completion. Work is never done. Children never truly grow-up. Art is never perfect. Most likely, it wasn’t inspired, and it didn’t come easy. It’s always a struggle. And perhaps this is why life has been cheapened to big-boxes, drive-thrus, and movies on-demand. We don’t want to put in the work; we don’t want to feel the pain. Life itself is a work of art, and we are rushing it to its end -- left only with cheap plastic, meaningless drivel, and bitter wine. This, is why life ceases to be gratifying....because we want to experience all in an instant. Like toddlers, we stomp our feet: right now.
My education first grade through twelfth was homeschooled, and we were always encouraged to delve into interests and become passionate about them. It didn’t matter what it was (and believe me, my sister and I decided on some strange ones) my parents were always supportive; although perhaps they did laugh a bit after we had gone to bed. But more than anything else, I believe, they wanted my sister and I to be curious, and never satisfied with just one answer. We were never “out” of school -- the farm was our classroom; life on it, our education.
Then in college, I attended a conservatory of music. There were required Guitar Literature classes, a semester each -- Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, and Classical -- wherein the history of the instrument was taught...its beginnings and ends. Its art. During the Renaissance semester, I was even able to borrow a lute from the school and learn the literature of the time in its vernacular. I heard what Luis de Milán and John Dowland sounded like originally, in context, to 16th and 17th century ears. One of the dreams I used to have squirreled away into the back of my head with all of my other nutty ideas, was to be a luthier. How strange, says Benedick, that sheep guts should hail souls out of men’s bodies -- how beautiful. And I wanted to be part of that beauty, to be part of that history. Nylon just doesn’t do the romance justice. For many years now I’ve thought that my classical education, the years spent practicing and perfecting an art, was all for naught -- a waste. A performance career didn’t pan out, and teaching wasn’t paying the bills. Guitar literature classes, learning the lute, practicing scales, and finally, playing concerts -- none of it mattered.
But recently, I’ve come to realize that it all did matter, it’s part of my own history. It has shaped the way I understand and see the world, and it has taught me the worth of work, time, art, and the hard way of doing something.
And for awhile now, a certain hard way of doing something has been bothering me. A part of my knowledge and history is missing -- as if I didn’t know who George Washington was, or had begun playing Henze before Sor. As a fly fisherman, I have never fished bamboo. I don’t understand it. I am curious. I need to fish it. But first, I need to make it. For awhile now, I’ve known -- I need to build a rod.
Gierach wrote in Fishing Bamboo that “Somehow we modern, technological humans have gotten two fallacies into our heads. One is that the current generation has to break completely with the old one in order to accomplish something new; the other is that doing something new is necessarily a good thing. In fact, the best work is still usually done in the oldest tradition of craftsmanship: You learn to do the thing the way it is: as the end product of generations of collective genius. That can amount to a life’s work, and if you never get a new idea, fine. If you do get an idea, you’ll probably have to try it. If it works you use it, if it doesn’t you go back to the old ways and continue to do recognizably good work. Those who strike out on their own without first mastering the craft can end up on some pretty thin ice.”
I need to learn to do the thing the way it is....
.....I'm scared of thin ice.
I have read all I can -- books, listervs, forums and blogs-- and tomorrow morning’s dawn will find me driving north towards Longmont, to Frank Drummond’s shop, Brush Creek Cane, to begin learning from his ‘collective genius.’
I have been warned about bamboo, and I have also been encouraged towards it. I have been told that it’s impossible to cast (yet I tend towards the thought that the people who can’t cast bamboo, can’t cast graphite or glass either), that it breaks easily (which makes me wonder -- why then is it used for flooring?) and that it’s just a romantic notion of old men, clinging to the past. But as Kathy Scott wrote,“The warnings may just have egged me on a little.”
I’ve also seen the light in an old man’s eyes as he leaned across a table and whispered, cupping his hands as if he were about to caress a lover or sculpt her out of clay, “you can really make bamboo....into anything you want.”
And I will.
And I will give it my best.
Here’s to romance...
Come tomorrow morning, I’ll be splitting cane.