Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Running Out Of Time

Late in her life, almost overnight, my mother became a piano student. She made rapid progress with classical conservatory lessons, and just before she died, she had moved up to a third teacher and a new level of skill; but despite her achievements and steady resolve, she never felt confident in what she could play.

I think she felt this way because we do not celebrate practice in our society. We see concerts, but not the lifetimes of training that make the music seem effortless. We see Olympic events, but not the decades of work to create an athlete. We see books, but not the woodstoves that were fed for years and years and years with lousy attempts to find the words.

Yet even though we never celebrate practice, people have long accepted its necessity. But what happens when a culture hits a point where it might not survive long enough to make practice worthwhile? After 1945, we had to face the constant fear of nuclear war; nowadays, we have to face climate change, neoliberal austerity, political collapse, and the real possibility that our civilization might be killed off not by disaster, but by business as usual.

When a lifetime is no longer likely, why should young people commit themselves to decades of practice? How can we show them the value of craftsmanship, when they might not have the necessary years needed to develop their craft?

This question matters to me, because I would love to celebrate the arts of today; but more and more often, I find myself going back to enjoy the achievements of yesterday, because yesterday valued craftsmanship, and yesterday offered lifetimes for practice.

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