Ear Worm


Anyone that has been around me for any length of time knows that I am always either humming or beating a rhythm on various and sundry body parts.  This latter only is a problem when the body happens to be someone else’s body.  I’ve often told my wife that she makes a wonderful percussion ensemble!  I just about always have music happening in my mind.  This has even caused discord when I have simultaneously heard music playing through speakers when other music was playing in my mind.  OK… I’ll admit to a certain degree of “weirdicity”.

Recently, one such earworm has boiled over into a compulsion to create.  The Middle School choir that I accompany twice a week is preparing an arrangement of the spiritual, Joshua ‘Fit the Battle of Jericho; as I drive back to my studio each Monday and Wednesday, I have been singing the tune for myself; after a few sessions of this, I have begun improvising variations to the tune, the words to the extent that I have a whole arrangement tucked up in my head.  I hear soloists, back-up singers, and of course, a trumpet.

Although not an everyday experience, I have done this before.  I wrote one piece as I was driving from central Iowa to Chicago.  When I arrived at my uncle and aunt’s apartment, I clamored for scratch paper, so I could write down the basics; I knew if I didn’t I would forget the whole thing.  And, then there is the choral piece I wrote while mowing the lawn.  At one time I would have said these incidents were a mystery to me; I’ve now decided that it really has to do with the war & peace between the “right: and “left” brains.  When I am forced into a left-brain mode, my right brain fights for supremacy.  It seems to feel the pressure of the back burner, and if ignored, it finds a way to disrupt meals, sleep and any waking moment… until it gets the attention and control that it seems to require.

Before I explain further, I have to say that I thank up to a hundred thousand hours of piano practice for the fact that I can use both a right and left-brain.  I believe I was born mostly right-brained.  The right brain is the intuitive, creative part of the human mind.  The unfortunate fact is that discipline is lodged in the left-brain.  If both spheres are not developed, even superior creativity might never come to fruition.  In his wonderful book, With Your Own Two Hands, Seymour Bernstein discusses how the act of practicing the piano changes a person.  The creativity of a dominant left-brained person can be unleashed through hours of good piano practice.  For me, my unruly right-dominant brain was plenty creative and imaginative; what I needed was the logical and disciplined side that was mostly dormant.  Bernstein makes a very interesting case for the amazing results of piano practice.  I quite agree.  I have learned to accomplish things that those who knew me in my tender years never would have imagined for me.

I am eternally grateful for the activation of my left side.  When pressed, I can be quite logical; I have learned discipline, although it often seems totally bland, robotic and unimaginative.  When I need it, I can call it up.  It’s just that my right brain wants to stay in charge, with assistance from the left.  That, unfortunately, is not always possible.  Since September I have been forced into allowing my left-brain to dominate too often.  Piano teachers MUST be organized.  Getting a school year launched successfully means organized planning, and thinking ahead well into the future.  It requires familiarity with deadlines & schedules.  And we have to command those traits well enough to teach our protégés.  I have been busy planning repertoire, recitals and contest engagements for most of my students, as well as ushering several students through the necessary, but often boring task of studying for music theory exams.

Usually when I am overwhelmed by left-brain requirements, I satisfy my right brain by practicing, and playing the piano.  When a “brain emergency occurs”, the right brain has a tendency to emulate a protestors mugging for the CNN cameras.  This is one of those times.  I have been busy scheduling the timeslots for the Junior Festival, sponsored by our local club of the National Federation of Music Clubs.  Each student gets scheduled for a specific time to perform two pieces that will be critiqued by a judge.  This is a very positive experience for the student, as they take an opportunity to challenge themselves to perfection… to reach in to their knowledge and musical sensibilities to play beautifully for another human being.  This takes great focus and poise, and is not something that most children experience regularly in the 21st Century.

It might seem like creating a schedule for this event would not be too taxing to someone with advanced degrees; unless you consider that there are multiple rooms, with students performing on multiple levels of difficulty.  Also, the times of siblings and carpool members have to match closely.  And then, there are the requests that some students need to perform in the morning while others need the afternoon.  One mother still thinks that her request to carpool her two sons, while giving one a morning time and the other an afternoon, is completely reasonable.  The schedule is further complicated for those really wonderful students who play more than one instrument, or enter more than one event for that day.  It is like a giant, human jigsaw puzzle.  The schedule required every cell of my left-brain.

I have to say that even though this is a demand of our more logical natures, and it seems that an objective way to accomplish the task would be possible, I felt my right brain protesting.  I was tempted to look back at the way I did it last year.  You could save time, I said to myself.  And yet, I couldn’t do more than open the 2010 spreadsheet.  It looked so foreign that I closed it, and decided that I was certainly more intelligent in 2011, and I would just invent a better way.  I think I moved through the various permutations of creating this schedule in the most right brained, intuitive and creative way possible.  I’ll never be able to write down the process, just as I find it impossible to write down a recipe for making jambalaya.

But the real triumph of the right brain is in the way that it asserts the creativity of a full arrangement of Joshua ‘Fit the Battle of Jericho.  I will create this arrangement.  It will be a real, tangible creation; and it will have been created to spite the left-brain, in all of its presumption.  I can hardly wait.


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