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  • Scott Bowman

Practice makes perfect - but it’s boring...

I just saw a 2 minute clip of Katelyn Ohashi ( Katelyn is... well, a gymnast I suppose, though that seems a bit monstrous to say only that. Like saying Michelangelo was a sculptor. He did do some sculpting, it’s true... but that hardly does him justice, does it?

I found this clip in my twitter feed with the caption, “A “10” isn’t enough for this floor routine” and it certainly isn’t. Even though it’s fun and up-tempo and not at all serious, I found it really moving - I teared up watching it, and I had to watch it over and over to sort out why.

Take a minute (...well, two I guess) and watch it now - the link’s in the comments below. ...I’ll wait...

I used to play the piano. I started teaching myself when I was 16 because I just had braces installed in a futile effort to discipline my teeth. At the time I played the saxophone, but the wire fence designed to keep my teeth from escaping bit into my lips and mouth when I played the damn thing and I ended up cut up and bleeding and that didn’t work so well.

Then I saw John Belushi on Saturday Night Live as Beethoven in a skit where he was plinking out the Moonlight Sonata and Gilda Radner was distraught next to him saying “Ludwig!! Ludwig!! Eat something... Ludwig!! Oy!” Then she left the room in a huff, and he started rocking out like Ray Charles. I remember thinking, “I bet my Mom has the music to that...” (the Beethoven, not the Ray Charles.) And I started teaching myself the Moonlight Sonata.

Why I didn’t start teaching myself “Baby, What’d I say?” is a mystery I will never know the answer to. I would have been sooo much cooler... Crap.

So I taught myself classical piano pieces for a year or so and then got some lessons and for many years struggled to learn compositions I had no right or reason to try to play. I came to see a pattern in how I learned a new piece of music. There were distinct stages:

  1. Enamored - I heard some piece of music that I loved so much that I had to learn to play it. I wanted it to come out of me, not just hear it, but sing it.

  2. Diligent - plink... plink... plink... trying to get the fingers to move. Trying to see how all the squiggly marks on the page end up being somehow equivalent to the raging beauty I heard when Horowitz played it.

  3. Frustrated - RRrrraAARghghgh&#*@!#!! Can’t... get... it... to... wooorrrrrrkkkkk!!! At this point I’m being peevish, complaining about reality and practicing my mistakes ( know, when you keep trying to get it right but just keep repeating the mistake instead - I call that practicing your mistakes. We do that A LOT).

  4. Recommitted - Now I’m slowing down, doing dexterity exercises, playing phrases backwards, in varying tempos, with exaggerated arm movements etc... I’m serious about learning it now.

  5. BORED OUT OF MY MIND - If I ever hear this piece of f*#$&g! music again it will be too soon. It has lost all magic for me. It is dead to me. I can’t even pretend anymore.

  6. Competent. Oh great - NOW I can play the thing. Now that I don’t want to ever HEAR it again, I can finally play it well. Who came up with this system??

(Seriously, there is something kind of magnificently cruel in this. I think this is why I don’t believe in God - Because if I did, he’d have to answer for it. I’d be coming to the pearly throne with a baseball bat.)

Thankfully, there is a 7th stage, which happens long after I left behind all thought of ever playing that piece of music ever again. And later... MUCH later... I’d sit down and find that I could play that wonderful composition, and feel it, sing it from some other place in me and just watch my fingers fly...

I’m still not sure it was worth it.

Watching Katelyn do that floor routine... she looks like she’s having the time of her life. And I think I have some small sense of what’s behind that two minutes - the ferocity, commitment, persistence, dedication...

But I think her path to performance was very different than mine. And I had to watch that video a bunch of times to see it.

Watch her team behind her.

They are literally exploding with every landing. They are dancing with her, they know all the moves, they are having a better time than she is.

My god that woman has some sisters.

I never let anyone see me practice. I never let anyone in. It was just me... and my nasty attitude. I was never willing to let anyone hear anything I couldn’t play with complete confidence. And as a consequence, very few people ever heard me play at all.

Looking at that video, I got a sense of what her practice must be like. I’m sure she still works hard in solitude and works hard with her coach, but that team... They were PRACTICED in supporting her. There was a veritable wall of “YOU CAN DO IT!!!” rolling from that side of the mat. And I’m sure they are that for one another as a matter of course.

What a team.

I Imagine now what it would have been like to learn in that kind of setting, with that kind of support. The kind of support I love to provide, in fact.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali one of the virtues distinguished (a virtue here is something that leads to a peaceful mind) is Mudita, taking delight in the accomplishments, virtues and joy of others. It is actually healthy, peace-inducing and FUN to celebrate the accomplishments and joy of others.

And when it comes to practice, every attempt is an accomplishment.

Who do you support that way? Whose accomplishments, whose efforts do you celebrate? (and would they agree with you?) Who could you celebrate today? Leave a comment here and celebrate someone you see trying. Create another Katelyn Ohashi right now.

Who do you let see you practice? Who do you let see you wobble? Who do you let tell you, “You can do it!”? Or do you struggle alone, as I did? You don’t need to. ...and I think it doesn’t work very well.

Let yourself be seen. In your wobbles, in your efforts, in your trying, in your ever improving becoming of you.

I’ll celebrate you.

I think that’s what I’m trying to do here, anyway. Wobble publicly a bit. Celebrate you publicly a bit. One of the marvelous things about this particular medium is that I think here I can honestly say, I think you are fantastic.

Keep it up!

P.S. What is the definition of a gentleman?

...Someone who can play the saxophone... but doesn’t

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