Cleaning off the top of my dresser is always an exercise in personal topography. The year tends to pile up in patches if you don’t get around to shoveling change into the jar and sorting through the many things that are so easy to toss on the dresser.
And this morning while cleaning up, two things stood in juxtaposition. A race number with pins and a set of guitar picks.
The pins and the race number are indicators of that very public commitment you make to participate in an event. You prepare for such things with training, fully knowing your performance will be out there for everyone to see.
The guitar picks, by contrast, are these days a somewhat more private matter. I play songs between writing projects, and try to perfect them to the point that they feel good to play. Some chords can be tough to do in progression. So I practice, and it seldom makes perfect. But it’s a great stress reliever to play music. And it’s fun.
I once shared in the leadership of a church Praise band. For the first few years, my job was rhythm guitar. That means you play the chords, keep the beat and help the band stay on track. For six or eight years I played on Sundays, and even wrote a song, performed it live and that was pretty well received.
For years, I played under the leadership of a talented couple. One played piano and sang. The other had an amazing voice and led the singers. We turned rock standards into church music and played that litany of Praise songs that all contemporary services play. Some of it really sucks. The key changes are maudlin. The lyrics repetitive. But they become standards anyway. Who knows why?
But when our lead couple left the church for other opportunities, I was left with other musicians to lead the thing and we made do. In fact, we made some decent music together. Some weeks I even served as the leader.
My training in the music field technically ended in the 7th grade. But for many years, I sang in the church choir. Not extremely well, grant you. My voice in most circumstances is just passable. On occasion, it actually sounds nice.
Then one day after leading the Praise service someone told me that I should sing more. But I know my limits, and which songs I can handle. Others take my voice to places it does not want to go. That’s a bad scene. Like barfing in the transition area at a triathlon.
It’s always a similar endeavor with endurance sports, is it not? It takes personal courage to give singing in public a try, and it takes guts to go out there and swim, run or ride until you can’t anymore. Sometimes you’re in tune for the day. Sometimes you are not. When you get out there and sense that you are “off key” somehow, you have to make the best of it whether you like it or not.
The last time I performed in public on guitar, a horrible thing happened. I’d gotten there early to prepare because I was going to do a painting live during the service along with playing in the Praise Band. There were people running around fixing up the tarps so I would not get paint on the floor, and that was my focus too.
And regretfully, I went out to tune my guitar alone. There was just one problem. The tuner was not set to the 440 mhz it needed to be on key. It was set higher. When I came back to play, it was too late to change it.
When the music started I immediately heard my guitar was out of whack. But there was nothing I could do. I felt a rush of angst and embarrassment, and disappointment that my rhythm guitar would be absent on a piece that needed it.
It wasn’t the first time things like that have happened. And it won’t be the last. Whether it’s forgetting your cycling shoes or helmet, or having no battery in your acoustic guitar for the amp, things happen that are “in your control” and yet “out of your control.” Those are the tarsnakes of this life. But they should not stop us from trying.
Thus the picks and the pins both are a reminder to be prepared the best you can. And to clean off your dresser now and then.