Mid January, on our way back from a delicious and light late lunch, my priest asked me if traveling to New Orleans could be part of my Spring Break plans. The week long March break (far off, and yet quickly approaching) was at that point an unblemished gap on my crowded calendar.
Knowing a week without my violin in the middle of spring semester was unacceptable, I hesitantly asked if I would be able to bring it. She responded that the doors locked and she was sure I could find a few minutes each day to touch my instrument if I felt inclined. Just like that, I found myself committed to a seven-day mission trip to the Big Easy. The violin would be in tow, but also accompanied by a suspicious fear that five-hour-practice-days had been diminished to five-minute-practice-moments.
Many times, as a musician committed to the power of practice and habit building, the promise of loosing myself for a day in the city, spending the afternoon in the park, or going on a weekend camping trip is paralleled by fear and guilt. I wonder how much time, if any, I will be able to spend touching my instrument and often doubt that a couple hours of practice will not trump gelato or a drive down Main Street. Most of the time, I turn out to be right.
Late night sleepovers, early cross country meets, and Downton Abbey marathons have all lead to unconvincing practice days. The days when a couple of three-octave scales and some review feels like a triumph.
As a violin player, the fear and guilt that surround these days might be warranted. But as a musician, these opportunities must be cherished.
At a recent masterclass, Pamela Frank emphasized the necessity of life experience to animate music. She encouraged students to explore the environment outside of the practice room as much as possible. Use the exposure to all walks of life to breath life into composers’ music. Art, sport, creativity, travel, knowledge, stories, a sense of fearfulness and fearlessness, wonder, and understanding are all essential to musicianship.
So this spring break, guilt free, I immersed myself in the wonderful city of New Orleans.
I marveled the beautiful architecture, walked until my feet hurt, indulged in the soul food, listened to the many narratives, and took pictures when I could (but buried the iPhone when I couldn’t).
My violin was waiting under my bunk bed, but I took the opportunity to throw the frisbee at Audubon Park, enjoy Gelato at Sucre on Magazine Street, attend a service at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, play spades with my closest friends, go to yoga at 6AM, and meet my uncle for a driving tour of the Garden District.
Even though my violin wasn’t in my hands, music surrounded us. At Annunciation Missions we sang at every morning prayer and evening compline. On the worksites we sang along to Summer Hits of the 2000’s. We listened to the collective road-trip-playlist for the 10 hours to NOLA (and the 10 hours back). On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to enjoy Frenchman Street, a local hotspot of traditional jazz clubs that scat and sway all night long. We spent our last night, Friday evening, dancing away to the Zydeco rhythm and blues at the Rock ‘N Roll Bowling Alley.
Most importantly, I was given the opportunity to serve the community as much as possible. We helped a neighborhood rebuild their playground. We helped a few NOLA citizens with intellectual disabilities plant a pomegranate tree at the Vintage Garden Farms. We painted the house of a man who had been diligently been working to rebuild (with many things working against him) since the storm. We spread mulch around 42 trees along the levees, and landscaped a garden for a 92 year old woman.
I had the most wonderful time. And although my fingers are a little out of shape, I don’t regret the decision I made.
Now it is time to go in the practice room to catch back up, but this time the whole city of New Orleans will be going into the practice room with me.