John Steinbeck on Beautiful Truth and Dreadful Beauty
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
In Roman times, military generals returning victorious were worshipped as near-gods. They had massive parades that lasted all day long. The general would ride in a chariot through town and country, adored by thousands.
In the chariot with him was a slave. And this slave had one responsibility. While the general drank in the glory, this slave whispered in his ear, reminding him of his mortality. “Remember, death is near. You, too, must die.” Momento Mori.
And this statement is true. We all die. It’s not the most enjoyable event to contemplate, but it certainly will happen. And we know not when. The young die as often as the old.
Macabre, perhaps, but there is also a beauty in this truth. It brings more value to the time we have. It can put our cares and concerns in a wider context.
Musically and in our guitar practice, we often avoid hard truths. We may be tempted to put off corrections for some other time. We can entertain ourselves now and do the hard work later. Then later we choose the same logic.
Many people are shocked when they record themselves playing. The sounds echoing back from the recorder are often different than the sounds we hear in real-time.
In real-time, we color the sound with our expectations. As in the Paul Simon lyric, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” We may not be aware we do this, but here is another dreadful truth.
Honest listening is a built skill. To listen with clarity takes practice. Video or audio recording helps with this. It allows us to listen without playing. We can give full attention to listening. In time, we can hear reality as it happens.
And the beautiful truth we hear is rarely perfect. It’s full of scratches and bumps. Gaps in the seams and runs in the paint.
So we face the next challenge – to use this information. We can use it to berate ourselves and undermine our motivation and enjoyment. Or we can use it to grow and improve. We can use it as the whetstone on which we hone our craft.
When we record again, we’ll hear new areas for improvement. We may, with the right attitude, be proud of how far we’ve come. But we will recognize new possibilities. The work continues.
Also in East of Eden, Steinbeck writes, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
One step in front of the next, enjoying the parade.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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