Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

Music from the outside.

It's been about a year since I played much music, which hasn't happened since my first piano lesson, before I was 2,000 days old. Through my earliest hours spent learning the Super Mario Bros. theme by ear, to composing the Frontiers soundtrack and having worked on over 85 musical stage shows, the piano has been much of my leisure and livelihood for decades.

I'd come to yearn to explore other things with the same ardency and leisure, and I wanted to shelve music long enough to forget about it. Not to disown it, but to get an opportunity to see it from the outside again, as non-musicians do. It's the kind of perspective I might want to recapture on the English language: a detachment some monolinguals might barely think to imagine, not even to their deaths.

This week I put on the headphones and improvised for a while. I wasn't really struck until afterward, and what struck me was that it hadn't been a while, but just a few minutes. I'm not sure whether playing had always done that for me, or whether it was plainer because I'd done it less. I was reminded of the rather loaded word "meditation" – perhaps loaded because its users seem to feel little pressure to define it, and because at least one usage refers to a pretty natural state of not recalling all one's concerns at once, which doesn't call for a fancy word. A counterintuitive observation, though: a few minutes spent making minutes seem longer is useful amid a routine where someone feels they can't afford a few minutes for anything.

I've seen composers' lives analyzed into phases, where their body of work seems to change with personal events or revelations. I never aim to change for change's sake, but having gained a small dose of the perspective I wanted, I think I understand that phenomenon a little better. If this all yields some change for me, I hope it feels more like it always should have.