I had a choir rehearsal tonight and, even though I mastered single digits round about 30 years ago, I somehow managed to forget how to count to three. More than once.
Now in some choirs–beginning ones or huge ones, for example–this wouldn’t be such a big deal. It’s at least conceivable that no one one would notice. But tonight’s rehearsal was for a small group of pro-level singers that I recently joined (Les Jongleurs–our concert is December 11, you should come if you’re in the central Kentucky area then), and tonight I was the only first soprano in the room. And I’m loud. I’m pretty sure people noticed.
You see, most of the time, I can count to three. I can read a key signature and translate a full rest and read notes. I can certainly tell whether the little buggers are ascending or descending. Except tonight.
I blame camping. See, I spent two of the past three nights on the ground in 40-odd-degree temps. And after getting off his normal routine, my son was up at 2:30 this morning. And my sinuses are presently trying to drill their way out of my skull. All this considered, I ought to just give myself a pass for my performance tonight and hope the director is as generous (Hi, John! Please don’t cut me!!!).
Sadly, though, I seldom do what I ought. And as I drove home wallowing in my imaginary hair shirt in penance for my terrible musicianship this evening, I realized that the experience dovetails rather nicely with a conversation (translation: incomprehensibly frustrating argument that ended in tears and a slammed door) I had earlier today with my seven year old son.
Ephraim is to math what I am to music. That is, he doesn’t know all the super-advanced, technical stuff, but what he does (namely addition, subtraction and some multiplication) he does very well. Scary well sometimes, which means he takes a lot of pride in his math skills and gets particularly pissed off when he messes up.
I made the mistake today of trying to help him (for homework, he was supposed to work on doubling numbers up to 6, as in 6 + 6 = 12, and we were up to 27 + 27, going in random order, when he faltered and said 52). When I said “Close” instead of “Yep, good job,” he stormed off, cried, and told me later that making a mistake makes him feel stupid. I did my best to convince him that making mistakes has nothing at all to do with being stupid. Mistakes are how we learn and grow, and even more importantly, they demonstrate that we have the courage to TRY.
Yet here I was a few hours later, hauling my Prius up I-75, castigating myself for needing a few tries to read a whole rest as three beats instead of two. And then getting lost a couple of times while sight reading, and getting so hung up on the German text in another piece that I kind of stopped reading the notes altogether. For maybe 25% of the evening, I was terrible.
That means, though, that 75% of the time, I was somewhere north of terrible. And eventually, I did get most of it right. But I still felt like Ephraim did earlier (minus the tears and growls and foot stomping).
In logic terms, the syllogism would go like this:
If I made mistakes, I am not smart (or good at music, in this case).
I made mistakes.
Therefore, I am not smart.
It’s a solid piece of logic. No arguing with that seamless bit of deductive reasoning Except that there is. The conclusion above relies on a faulty assumption, namely that making mistakes equals being bad/stupid/inadequate. Even my seven year old, when pressed, admits that it isn’t true, and yet it’s a hard pill to swallow.
We all want to do well. And if we’re used to doing well, we want to be perfect. When we fall off a horse we’ve ridden a million times, we’re often tempted to call it a day and take up knitting instead of risking our foot in another stirrup. But then we’d miss out on the chance to do better. We’d never know the outer banks of our potential. We’d miss the thrill of the ride. Worst of all, we’d be cowards. And that would be one really stupid mistake.