This post starts out about ballet, but bear with me – I promise I have a musical point.
As you may know, I am an amateur ballerina. Key word being amateur; I’ve been doing it enough years that I am pretty good, but I can barely turn out a triple pirouette to save my life, my turnout is average at best, and my feet, while strong, could have higher arches. In short, I am an Okay Dancer.
This is not a story about proving myself wrong about that. This is a story about how a friend of mine came to ballet class with me, a friend who had never danced before in her life, and afterward she was so embarrassed because she couldn’t bend her body like I could. “I thought you were amazing,” she said.
Was I amazing, to the full extent that ballerinas can be amazing? Hell no. But compared to a non-dancer, I could do a thousand things other people could never dream of doing – simply things that felt so easy to me, leaps and jumps and lifts of the leg imperfectly executed but nonetheless executed, that I’d been doing for so long that I took them for granted.
And I think musicians are like that too. I think we forget that there are so many people who look at a piece of sheet music and see a random assortment of dots and lines. They compose a foreign language; they have no meaning.
To those who haven’t studied music, the ability to play a scale is a miraculous thing. Understanding of arpeggios? Genius! Bach’s “Minuet in G”? Astounding! All these tiny little things we’ve learned over the years that mean nothing to us because we’ve known them so long and the fingerings are ingrained in our muscle memory and a D# is a D# is a D# and how could anyone not know that?
But there are a surprising number of people who don’t know that. But you do. And it sounds really dumb, but I think it might be nice if, next time you play an instrument or read a score or parse a complicated symphony in your head, you think, “It’s pretty cool that I can do this. Not everyone can.”