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Honoré Victorin Daumier: A zealous student practicing at home,
plate 6 from Les Baigneuses (1847)

"It's the pursuit of premise pursuing purpose …"

The old joke asks how to get to Carnegie Hall before disclosing: Practice, Practice, Practice. Of all human endeavor, certainly Practice stands near the most curious. I expect that we misunderstand it because I'm confident that I misunderstand it, mostly because I can't hardly stand to do it. It seems infused with purposeless, and I suppose that natively, Practice is always separate from purpose. It might be that Practice largely entails mustering a motivating backstory so as to make the effort tolerable if never entirely pleasurable. For me, it reeks of self discipline and self possession, a separation in preparation for making a connection. I often spend my practice time aching to be finished practicing and on to something more sociable and meaningful.

Still, if a musician or even a lowly songwriter ever expects to perform his work, it seems he must prepare somewhere.
Problem is, there's never any perfect somewhere to complete such preparation. A large part of performance relies upon surprise to delight the audience. Performing for an audience of one, the very one performing, requires, then, a certain sleight-of-hand. One must be capable of fooling one's self into believing that they do not know what comes next, though, Lord knows if nobody else does, just the mistakes serve to infuse each iteration with ample surprise, but these rarely induce delight. They might most easily induce a sort of stage freight where the performer freezes up in anticipation of freezing up again. Disgusted, then, Practice goes to Hell, hand baskets optional. The session, which has always been the container Practice comes in, might get suspended until some fictional future more conducive time.

There is no more or less conducive time. Eventually, one must face this fact or lose the ability to ever practice. It will very likely be painful at first and should probably be attempted well out of earshot of anyone even vaguely interested in the performer's success, everyone, that is, except the performer himself, who can't help but hold interest and is also sentenced to witness every twist and turning between beginning and eventually learning, presuming, of course, that any learning ever emerges. It's possible and, indeed, often seems more probable, that Practice will not result in anything ever approaching perfection. One does not, I suspect, Practice to make anything perfect. One might in fact practice for some other reason, perfection being not even distantly related to that purpose.

But it seems as though Practice must hold a purpose, and closely. Purposeless pursuit seems the very soul of futility, and might be the primary reason anyone cannot stand to engage in Practice. We let our skills go derelict because it seems too painful to do otherwise, the prospect of another purposeless hour populated solely by dog minutes, each one lasting seven or eight of the regular ones, does more than discourage us. It disembowels us. We quite literally have no stomach for the effort and so cannot muster the oomph to engage in it. We'd gladly do anything instead, preferable something mindless, something capable of killing us with the kind of kindness nobody ever really needs.

The guitar refuses to hold a tune at first. My fingers have gone to rust. My memory holds only the most derivative lick but my memory can't quite take me to the end of even that. I choose a tune that used to make me swoon but find it missing a dimension or two. I somehow make it through to something vaguely resembling an end, but an unsatisfying version. Should I try or even try, try again or move on to something a little more challenging? I stumble into something that I recall took me forever to initially figure out and I wonder if I'll ever figure it out again. Re-creation seems haunted by the vague recollection of not having to used to even think about it. The thought itself proves painful and vaguely embarrassing. Can I face myself not quite knowing again and again and again? That's Practicing and, Lord knows, Practice takes Practice. It's the pursuit of premise pursuing purpose, not the pursuit of perfect. I suspect that I'll never come to love it.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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