I started playing the flute in the 7th grade. A few months later, my father died.
I remember, just as my mom is breaking the news to me the phone rings and it is my great-grandmother who wants to speak to me.
“Jennie Ann, your father was the love of your mother’s life. Don’t you cry and upset her.”
Who says that?
Anyways, those were my orders and, since I was the “good one,” I soldiered on and followed directions.
I didn’t cry.
And practiced. And practiced.
If I didn’t, the grief might catch me.
Music became my salvation. I can remember RUSHING to my room and, hands shaking, putting that flute together and having two objectives — LOUD. And, FAST.
The grief eventually did catch me. Years later, as I held my baby daughter while she died, the grief finally won.
I remember that this sound – this incredible keening sound – just forced its way from my body. I remember sort of standing beside the sound marveling that a person could even create such a thing.
And I grieved.
For my father, for my daughter, for the childhood that wasn’t.
Here’s how my childhood went:
I had my first strategic plan at the age of nine. “Be a good girl. When you are 16, borrow the car ostensibly to go to Drug Fair and buy hair spray. Instead, drive to your daddy’s house and show him what a good girl you are so he’ll take you back.”
Sad ass plan. Sad little girl.
My plan “failed” anyway. Or, at least, I had to revise it.
Cause my plan outlived my father.
I was 11. He was 34.
It was okay, though, because by now I was two things — a musician. And, a planner.
I figured the weak link in that first plan was that it included another human being. And you can’t rely on those, right?
So here is the gist of my second plan: It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God. It was that god didn’t believe in me.
Therefore I was all alone.
And so the new plan was, “Be Perfect.”
And I worked the hell out of that plan. I even had little rituals which I might share with you one day.
And the plan worked.
Until it didn’t.
It turns out that the search for perfection is not only futile. It’s exhausting.
So, the plan didn’t last, but you know what did?
The music has always been there, even when I wasn’t there for the music. Which has been quite a few years.
One of the things that happened this summer while I was on sabbatical is that I was invited to join an orchestra.
A real orchestra. With grown up musicians and everything.
Last night was our second rehearsal. Our conductor, Maestra Nancia D’Alimonte is a gift. She let me interview her a while back and I was struck by how much adversity she had to overcome to win the privilege of the platform.
So many people – nope, make that women — told her to quit. What is with women in power? We’re supposed to help each other.
But you all already know that.
First of all, there is no “top.” We’re all gonna die one day, and love, death is the great equalizer.
But, I’ve learned that the certitude of that last day can also be a gift. Finitude is the gift which extracts what is most precious in life.
But, back to music, artistry, and god.
When you work really hard at something, when you determine that you are going to master something important, something hard, you get the conviction that nothing can really defeat you again.
Because I can play the Prokofiev Sonata for Flute (well, actually violin, but whatever) – because I can play that last movement and play it well – I know I can run a business, raise a family, grieve a daughter.
The pursuit of artistry — the pursuit of True Greatness — makes you STRONG in so many other ways.
And I have lived to see the truth: All those years ago, I thought I had been abandoned by my Higher Power. I thought I had to bring the music all by myself.
But I was wrong.
God brought me music.
And music brought me god.
Photo: flickr, Zoltán Vörös