What is captured in that photo is a gorgeous landscape, plants bursting with the vibrant green of spring and a sky of inviting blue. These form the backdrop for a classic Americana farmhouse, a resolute red that seems the color of lifeblood in all the vitality that surrounds it.
What is not captured in that photo is the comforting breeze, the warmth of the sun, or the chill of the ice cream in our hands. Not captured is music drifting through the air, nor the smell of dinner wafting over the lawn. Imperceptible is the weariness in our minds and the fulfillment in our souls.
Imperceptible is the fulfillment in our souls.
Welcome to what now seems to be your yearly sonder post! It seems the previous frequency of my posts could be attributed to this blog being a “pandemic project,” a phenomenon I suspect many others may be able to relate to.
Regardless, to clear up some exposition, the Avaloch Farms Music Institute was founded by Dr. Fred Tauber and musician Deborah Sherr as a cultural project that invites artists to spend a few weeks using Avaloch facilities to rehearse, record, and develop their art in whatever way they would like. Dozens of ensembles are in residence each year, and this summer Ghadeer and I were fortunate enough to spend two weeks there.
Now, this past semester was an intense one for me as I closed out the first half of my master’s degree. I also began taking orchestral auditions, which is a taxing new experience that will absolutely become a post someday. My family knew I was tired from that semester and thus upon return from Avaloch I often received questions along the lines of “Are you refreshed? Are you even more exhausted? Was it relaxing? How are you feeling?” The answer to these questions proved interesting enough to ponder and pursue. Because after two weeks of intense music making mixed with beautiful scenery and new connections I felt exactly how I did before I left. No more fatigued and no more energized. That’s quite odd. I think many can relate to going off to some camp or retreat and coming back with a sort of spiritual high, or perhaps to be exhausted and desperate for home. But coming home and feeling decidedly unremarkable is in fact pretty remarkable. It is remarkable because of what it implies:
One day in the middle of our stay Ghadeer and I went out and canoed on Walker Pond near the farm. The weather was perfect. It isn’t captured in any other adjective, it wasn’t beautiful or nasty, sunny or cloudy. It was perfect, it was balanced. A perfect cycle of cold and warm, wet and dry. The water splashed coolly across my body only to be dried by the breeze, my skin then warmed by a gentle sun only to start the process over again, each agent in this interaction working at the optimal temperature to achieve total harmony. It didn’t matter whether I was in the water swimming, sweating while paddling, or blissfully resting in the boat, I was wholly comfortable and completely content.
The rest of our time at Avaloch was no different. We practiced until our bodies ached and slept until we were bursting with energy. If we were sick of each other we were rescued by the company of all the other artists in residence, if we were weary of socializing we were greeted with deep solitude among the fields and hills of the countryside. We ate until we were stuffed and worked until we were ravenous, hiked till we were sore and sat till we were restless.
I was balanced, and I was at my best. My typical relationship with work can be generously described as imbalanced. I am caught in a cycle of motivation and burnout, procrastination and bedtime revenge, feverish productivity and utter uselessness. I’m battery powered, always occupied either by recharging or by burning up my reserves. Avaloch was a glimpse of the answer to this equation, a trip through the looking glass that shows an inverted universe on the other side. Consistent work combined with constant rejuvenation turned me into a perpetual motion machine, working and creating and enduring and enduring and enduring and enduring.
Enduring and enduring and enduring and…
So then how do I match the productivity I experienced in those weeks? Do I need more work or more play? More sleep or more discipline? More hiking? More practicing?
No, indeed contentment, sleep, and hiking are all positive things, good for the soul, but I think it’s obvious they won’t get you exactly where you want to go.
Similarly. motivation, ambition, and drive are also good things, powerful traits. But you may find that they lead you away from your true goals.
You need both. I need it all. I need ambition and contentment. I need rigidity and slumber. Warmth and chill, sun and breeze.
I need precision and accuracy.