Saturday, January 28, 2023

A Watched Pot . . .

Observation for the day: a watched pot may never seem to boil, but an unwatched pot always boils over.

I would consider the magic of crossing the top of the pot with a wooden spoon as a kind of "pot watching." It is like engaging a pot watcher while you are off chopping vegetables, grating cheese, cleaning counters, washing dishes, and other multi-tasky, kitcheny things.

I have been thinking about the way this observation could apply to things in musical life. Those of us who practice an instrument diligently tend to "watch the pot," hoping for all of the physical work we do to amount to some kind of fluency in a passage over a matter of minutes. But I find that after practicing a passage carefully for a while, and then taking time away from it, I can come back to the passage at hand with a refreshed sense of physical balance and a less-cluttered mind. And then I wonder why it was once so hard.

Those of us who were in a hurry to grow up as children or as teenagers felt that time moved slowly. Perhaps because we were so busy "watching the pot." But time progresses at the same rate whether you are watching or not. And in musical terms "boiling over" is not a bad thing at all. Unlike water, which has a specific boiling point, musical expression, in all its varieties, is limitless.

I wonder if some of us "watch the pot" when it comes to relationships with friends, students, and young people in real physical time, wondering where a relationship might "go," if a student will "get it," or waiting for a child to grow into a pair of shoes that were still too big. And is the anticipation of a future event (a birthday, a party, the beginning of school, graduation from school) an act of "pot watching?"

I find great joy in filling time paying attention to details when reading a book, writing music (or blog posts), playing chamber music, listening to a concert, or talking with friends. It would be nice to employ the time-altering features of pot watching to give certain moments lasting weight, but time flows on, and consciously preserving moments in is not something I can control.

Sometimes when I am writing music I am able to create an illusion of a pitch or phrase lasting longer than it actually does in measured time. When that happens I celebrate, but I don't actually know how to make such moments happen. Minimalist-style repetition is one tool (trick), but it doesn't work in every musical context.

With our electric stove we need to during the dial to "high" to start the burner "burning." Then you can turn it down (unless you forget). Fortunately life itself doesn't always have to be propelled by high heat. We have the option of turning down the flame to keep things at a nice simmer, which can help us to savor special moments.

I have found that one of the benefits of age is the ability to appreciate moderation in some things, including savoring slow progress. I used to be in such a hurry, and I missed a great deal because I wasn't paying enough attention. I'm trying to do better.

But now, in the age of the internet, it is challenging to keep the heat low, to pay full attention, and to feel comfortable with moderation.

The saying goes, Dance like no one is watching." But when the dance floor is on line, it is hard to dance as if no one is watching, because our hope is that someone might be watching. And when it seems that nobody is "watching" (reading, listening, playing, or even caring) it is disheartening.

I remember during my years at the radio station I wondered if anyone was listening. In the mid 1980s our station was the strongest public radio station (for forty miles in all directions) in the small area of the FM dial allotted to non-commercial radio. (That was before a local Christian radio station started broadcasting with a strong signal that made our signal harder to get.)

But every once in a while, a good twenty plus years since I stopped my life as a "radio broadcast professional," people in town tell me how much they enjoyed my radio programs. And every once in a while I get a note or a recording from somebody who has enjoyed playing something I wrote, and I find that my cup is full and even overflowing.

1 comment:

ksh said...

I am reminded of the old "Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute.Sit on a hot stove for minute and it seems like an hour" definition of relativity.

I enjoy reading your posts very much, Elaine. They are very thoughtful. Thank you.