I have played the piano for about 55 years. Wow! That must mean I am … OK, leave it alone, I am reminded every morning that I am on the wrong side of 60. What would drive me to dedicate hours nearly every day for over a half century to the study of this box of strings? Why do I continue to devote even more time to its study now that I have retired? What could possibly be in it for me? I don’t and haven’t for many years perform in public. So, it is not for the adulation of my massive crowds! While my YouTube channel has certainly enjoyed a modicum of success, it is hardly enough to justify the 10,000’s of hours I have put into it. What has driven me all these years after my youthful ambitions were dashed upon the rocks of reality?

Those are all very fine questions you ask young Padawon. The answer is multi variant. It would also depend on the time of day and my mood. But let’s take a crack at it. Maybe, just maybe, you might find something useful from my experience.

The Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, in his book 12 Rules for Living, tells us to “pick up something really heavy.” I have been doing this long before Mr. Peterson wrote his book, and probably even before he finished his own education. The point of picking up the heaviest thing you can is to prove you can actually do something meaningful. Even if it is only moving a stone a few feet to a better place, no matter how miserable your life, at least you have done this one useful thing. Now do something else, again, the heaviest thing you can find. While Mr. Peterson primarily tries to draw meaning for life through the lens of psychology, he does at times try to bring some sense of the spiritual to the question. (Though, his understanding of the Christian faith is still very poor, but it is slowly developing, God be with him.)

By challenging ourselves to grow ever stronger, we become better equipped to face the many disappointments and difficulties in life. And this is the primary motivation for Mr. Peterson’s work. He wants to equip his clients/audience/students with the tools needed to navigate a difficult life.

So, what does picking up big rocks have to do with the piano, you ask Young Padawon? Well, big rocks will certainly make your arms stronger. But that is not what I have in mind. In the normal course of study, the student moves from one lesson to the next, each is expected to be a bit more challenging than the previous; each bring new skill and understanding. And for the student who willingly picks up each new rock/lesson and does their best to master it as quickly as they can, they become stronger and more able to pick up the next rock. However, for the student who just shuffles along and makes only a meager attempt at picking up the rock, they gain nothing, and the next rock is even heavier for them.

The intense study of music affords one an unlimited supply of ever heavier rocks. And these rocks can easily be broken down into their constituent parts. There are technical issues to master. You need to learn the most efficient mechanical means of execution and spend the time necessary to increase your tempo to the point you can play the music at whatever speed you decide, instead of whatever speed you can. There are musical issues. Questions of balance. Understanding structure. The list can go on for a very long time. And if that is not enough… Bach wrote 48 Preludes and Fugues, Beethoven wrote 32 Sonatas, Scarlatti 555 sonatas, Haydn 52 sonatas, Chopin 24 Etudes… you get the picture. There is so much good music to be explored that all of us will not live long enough to scratch the surface. Each of these works is a rock of some size. While Scarlatti wrote  lots of sonatas, they generally fit within a relatively narrow range of difficulty. So, your rock may be to learn a dozen this year. (After your third dozen you will realize this isn’t all that hard!)

Have you ever watched a group of men in a gym gather around one of their members attempting some great lift? Yes, they are there for safety, spotting the lift in case things go wrong. But if you listen closely, you will hear words of encouragement, as if they could will their comrade to succeed. And when he does, they all cheer as if it were they themselves who succeeded. This type of encouragement is what I wished we saw in the study of music! Because your friend could lift hundreds of pounds more than you can, does not diminish your own effort. Everybody is at a different point on their lifelong quest. And because Johnny played harder pieces than Jimmy does not negate Jimmy’s growth and his picking up of rocks. Only Jimmy can pick up Jimmy’s rocks. Both Jimmy and Johnny should be giving the strongest encouragement to each other as they grab the next rock. Each rock makes them stronger and better able to face the next rock.

While this is “easy” for me to write, I have not lived it very well. It has often been difficult… forget it, impossible to cheer the other person. But this was just another stone I needed to learn to pick up. Because something is difficult is not a reason to avoid it, but rather is the very reason it should be done. Our children need to see us pickup heavy stones. If they watch you take the easy way at every opportunity, is it any wonder they do the same? They have watched you for years, look for and take the easy short cut no matter the outcome. And if you could avoid doing anything at all, well, that is exactly what you did. Do you wonder why Suzy doesn’t put much effort into her math? Yes, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to take on hard challenges, challenges which we could very well fail at, and fail spectacularly. If we don’t demonstrate how to pick up large rocks and drop them on our toes with even a modicum of grace, how will they ever learn?

But, even more so, we need to lift heavy rocks for ourselves! How many life experiences have you missed because you were unwilling to even try? Of course you will fail!! So, what! Let me pass on a little secret about my recording work. Yes, I have recorded many thousands of hymns (and I eventually hear about every mistake I made) and hundreds of solo works, some of them very major works. Now, on occasion, I will record a hymn without making a mistake. But this does not happen every time. I often must go into the file and edit out the mistakes. Now let me list all the solo works I got right on the first take:

On the second take:

On the third take:

On the fourth take:

Yep, never. There are mistakes in every take, and I must edit them out. So, if I have done all that I have, and never once been perfect, why do you worry about perfection. The point of picking up every heavier rocks is not to make ourselves perfect, just stronger.

With each new piece of music, we have an opportunity to get a bit stronger. And since this is a very, very long marathon, we will have opportunities to return to our earlier difficulties and find what was once heavy has now become light. But you will only have this opportunity if you have been picking up your rocks all along.

My students will attest, I didn’t really teach how to play the piano, but rather how to live. My hope was they would learn the lessons my decades behind the keyboard had taught me. Eagerly take the next challenge. If you fail, get back to it and try again until you find some success. And above all don’t stop picking up those rocks. In the study of music there is always another heavier stone which is just waiting for your attention. You will be a better person and parent for having accepted the challenge to become always better.

Here are some of my favorite Hymnals:

Presbyterian 1955 Hymnbook: http://amzn.to/2zSRdpL

Episcopal 1940 Hymnal: http://amzn.to/2DEOl1H 

Broadman 1940 Hymnal:  http://amzn.to/2C1WuwK

Methodist 1939 Hymnal:  http://amzn.to/2CfJ1Wq

Pilgrim 1935 Hymnal: http://amzn.to/2DDvbJC

Now Sings My Soul, New Songs for the Lord by: Linda Bonney Olin:  http://amzn.to/2DQ6gUy

Choice Hymns of the Faith 1945 http://amzn.to/2Dx97nA

Book of Psalms for Singing https://amzn.to/2ygM00b    (1912 Psalter is unavailable)

Here are my new projects:

Hymns Ancient and Modern https://amzn.to/3dfaHIY

J S Bach Riemenschneider 371 Harmonized Chorales  http://amzn.to/2DSy5f9


Dictionary of Hymnology:  http://amzn.to/2BxPabk

American Hymns Old and New https://amzn.to/3fqkkVU