Friday, November 09, 2007

Every new tune is like a new trail to explore

I'm learning to play the Irish flute. Unlike my reputation as a hiker, I'm not very good at it. The Irish flute is not easy to play. I'm not very fast or skilled at it. I don't have a very good tone yet. I can barely play most tunes.

But I love it anyway. It makes me happy. I could play all day long and sometimes I do when I can't think of something else to do.

There are so many tunes to learn in the Irish Traditional Music genre. And each one is like finding a new trail to explore.

I can explore a new tune and then share it with others, just like I do with new trails I find. I love the way people's excitement stirs when they learn a new trail. It's the same when they learn a new tune, even when someone as inexperienced and unskilled as I am is the one to show it to them.

Why the flute? I think the flute is the prettiest-sounding instrument. An Irish flute is not the silver kind you play in an orchestra. It is made of wood and sometimes has silver keys on some of the holes, but the main holes never have keys, and some flutes, like mine, have no keys at all. It plays only a major D or G scale if you cross-finger the C-natural. If you need other notes outside these two scales, you have to half-hole or cross-finger. They are not built in.

It would seem this is a limitation, making the instrument frustrating, but it is not. Irish music is usually written in these two key signatures, employing what are called modes, which means that there are minor scales and other hauntingly beautiful scales that fit inside the D and G key signatures. There's more than enough variety and complexity and excitement in these tunes to fit into a lifetime. Having only six holes to open and close is not limiting at all.

People on online Irish music forums sometimes get mad at me because I have the gall to attend Irish sessions as a beginner to the music and to the instrument. But I have been welcomed and told to keep coming back so I do.

Sometimes people get mad at me on online forums because I read sheet music instead of doing all my learning by ear. The people at my session also read sheet music. Only the ones who have been playing forever are capable of picking up new tunes by ear after hearing them only one or two times. Some of the others at the session can pick up a new tune after maybe 10 times. The rest of us use a combination of sheet music and ear-learning. There are even a few tunes I've found myself playing at the session that I don't know, having picked it up by ear.

The whole experience, from hearing the music, to selecting and purchasing the flute, to learning to play, to learning the tunes, to struggling with my embouchure, to meeting new people is another experience that adds to my personal wealth. Studies have shown that the pursuit of money and posessions do not bring happiness. It is the memory of experiences had and the mastery of skills that bring happiness.

Are you following a trail to happiness?

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