I think a common artistic mistake is the continual quest to perfect the craft itself. The ultimate possibility of art is the achievement of moments of transcendence. In the case of music you could argue that no real advance can be made; you can only hope to visit and revisit the wellspring of emotion and inspiration. Access to these things isn’t always dependent on progress in your craft. They can’t be achieved without your craft and craft alone cannot create them. You need trust and faith in the subjective feelings that the music generates. There is no accumulation of technique and ability that you can rely on. Each moment of music is its own and you have to be open to its possibilities. These moments can arise at various levels of technical ability. The muse is very democratic. On some level I’ve always known that it is not about becoming a better fiddler in a technical sense. I think it’s more about learning to be more receptive and open to that magical moment we long for. These moments are the music; everything else is the dance leading up to that point."A few years ago I read this beautiful quote by Martin Hayes and immediately knew what he was talking about. When I play Irish music, I often get the feeling that I'm grasping at something subtle and infinitesimal that is constantly evading my reach. The couple of seconds where I seem to get it in the middle of a tune is the only reward in my solo practice, and is experienced much faster and for longer when playing with my band. Isolating this tiny snatch of essence and stretching it throughout an entire tune is a goal which I may or may not ever reach, even if I practice for decades. I feel able to achieve this most with Irish music (mainly because the tunes are short and not difficult technically) which often can sound trite but is actually more difficult and heart wrenching than it first appears.
I've never been able to compose or write music, which is how many people I know get musical satisfaction. What I get from playing music comes from the joy of playing with others, of learning many tunes off by heart and striving to get the sound more right every time I play.
|A frontispiece from a book of traditional music collected by Edward Bunting in the 18th and 19th Centuries, mainly from the great Irish harpists who were dying out even at that time|
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's flow is an interesting psychological concept that is defined as "the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity" and I don't often get to feel it these days, my whole life being strewn with the shattered shards of split attention. An hour a two spent concentrating on playing through the simplicities and drawing out the complexities of AA BB tunes every few weeks can make a big difference.