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Félix Edouard Vallotton: Laziness (1896)

"Our catalogues might eternally be narrower than even we expected."

I haven't quite come to fully accept my narrow musicianship. I get by with a few keys and just about as many chord progressions. I might daydream of writing complex Hoagy Carmichael-like melodies, but I've so-far stuck with far simpler structures. Further, assimilating new chords into my tiny repertoire seems unlikely, as my hand turns into a claw whenever attempting a fresh form. I'm reminded, again and again, of Meredith Wilson, who composed the entire The Music Man score employing essentially one melodic structure, every song a slight variation upon the very same theme. His accomplishment reassures me that my apparent Laziness might hold real promise. If it doesn't, I'm probably sunk.

I've pretty much always employed applied Laziness as my primary coping strategy.
I limit my potential to feel safe. When we moved into the Washington DC region, I quickly declared ninety percent of it off limits, thereby limiting my range. If I stayed close to home, I'd never have to master Beltway driving, Northern Virginia traffic, or any of ten thousand other inconveniences. I allowed myself to become accustomed to only so much difference, and thereby gained a sense of belonging that seemed unlikely to emerge if I attempted to embrace the entire megalopolis. I'd occasionally feel forced to visit alien territory and each trip reinforced the wisdom of my strategy to limit my range. Most of that region will always feel strange, though the part I embraced came to feel very much like home.

Same story with my songwriting. I might hold fantasies of becoming another Jimmy Van Heusen or Johnny Mercer, though I know in my heart that this reality will never be. I am still coming to grips with the notion that I am me and probably never intended to become anyone else, and that this limited range might just prove good enough. It's sure enough eccentric, and I hesitate to show it off or promote it. My talent's good enough, given its limits, and unlikely to improve beyond its current range. I probably still have additional tunes within me, but no grand symphonies. If I really, really applied myself, I might manage to learn to read music faster than I can translate German. As far as that notion goes, if I really applied myself, I might become fluent in German or learn to type. I can interpret a score's intent without fluently turning it into actual music. I can mostly manage to follow along with it, but I will not recognize the song until someone else plays it. I write by typing with two and a half fingers. I write songs the same way, it seems.

I refer to my technique as Laziness ironically, because I suppose it must seem like Laziness to any outside observer. I admit to stopping short of anything close to full competence, but I suspect that pretty much every one of us does. The rare prodigy, perhaps, routinely exceeds expectations, and self-helpless coaches' exhortations and customer service surveys aside, nobody routinely exceeds even their own expectations for themselves. We generally fall far short of our potential but few of us choose to wallow in our shortcomings and even shorter goings. We revel in what we accomplish, to the extent that we revel in anything at all, and keep on truckin' anyway, getting on then moving on. Our catalogues might eternally be narrower than even we expected. We work with what we've accomplished, not with what we've not.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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