It’s Not Difficult, It’s Just New

September 26, 2010

A number of years ago I was hired to care for a retired musician who at the age of 96 was still teaching new students and coaching former ones, most of the latter employed by the nation’s top symphony orchestras. Having served as principle harpist for 43 years in the Cleveland Symphony, she was a stickler for precision.

As a bassist and recovering piano student shamed by my first music teacher for ‘cheating’ by playing by ear, I felt a great sense of vindication one day while waiting for her at the harp. As I plucked out a simple melody, she walked into the room, sharp eyes upon me, and asked what I was playing–more of a demand than a question. I hardly thought my efforts worth the question, but politely responded that I was just making something up.  Just as matter-of-factly, with absolutely no compuncture she stated: “I can’t do that. ” I almost fell off the harp stool.

At any rate, she deemed by abilities worthy of taking some harp lessons. Beginning with some preludes and struggling to read notes dangerously perched above the ledger lines (a condition she referred to as ‘ledgerlinitus’) she looked me squarely in the eye and said: ‘it’s not difficult, it’s just new.’  Become familiar with it and it will become easy. She said her predecessor sounded like a beginner every time he practiced, playing slowly, simply and repetitively to become proficient, to develop the calm, unshakable confidence of craft.

What stands out to me is the aspect of relative ease afforded by relationship: whether with notes, with a fingerboard, with a person, with a job assignment or task of any sort, when we develop a relationship with whatever it is, it becomes easier. Opens the door to more.  Next time a task seems daunting, just remember: it’s not difficult. It’s just new. Take time to get to know it–whatever it may be–it may just contain the very joy it seems to be barring.

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