Bake the Cake


chocolate cake.jpg

It’s the sitting down.

An author I’ve been reading a bit of lately says of writing, “I can sit anywhere. I can sit at the kitchen counter. I can sit at my desk. I can sit on the living room couch. But I have to sit. I can’t measure the windows for new curtains, or pick up all the action figures and toss them in the toy bin, or do dishes. I must sit. That’s the hardest part.” It’s a paraphrase, of course, but you get the idea.

Writing a little each day is like the etudes I used to work on for flute lessons. To be frank, I hated them. They were all about featuring arpeggios or sixteenth-note runs, or, God forbid, the dreaded B key at the base of my flute. Tuneless wonders all, putting time and effort into those ditties seemed an exercise in futility. I wanted to play beautiful melodies. I wanted to push the limits of myself and the instrument. Those rudiments slowed me down.

As far as etudes (French for studies) went, I would never perform them. Can you imagine if I did? “Well, we’ve put together a concert of Susan’s best etudes and warm-ups. Sit back, relax and see if you can recognize what she mastered from each one.” Snore! Who would even come. Okay, my parents and Jonathon. We’d drag the kids, too. But no one else. Why would they?

The work that goes into mastering something isn’t pretty. It isn’t even entertaining. It’s frustrating and sweaty and boring and grueling. It’s the rebar in a building. It’s the epoxy holding the carpet down. Our bones, muscles and sinews keep us together. But seeing any of them means we’re broken somehow and need immediate medical attention.

And yet, the etudes and warm-ups and exercises forced me to improve. I got quicker. I learned more about rhythm and tone. I acquired enough breath support to push out the low B when needed. They were necessary to my growth as a musician. I couldn’t just blow them off (ha!). I had to do them well to move on. Learning to sight read an F chord arpeggio meant I didn’t have to think. My fingers’ muscle memory caused me to hit the correct keys, and then look ahead to the next one.

I can see now the importance of what is unseen. Most of life’s real work gets done behind the scenes – parenting, regularly showing up for a job. All of these things add up, eventually. Our children grow up to be kind, responsible people. We learn new skills and earn a promotion.

When I stood up to perform, music on the stand and flute at the ready, the audience only saw the icing. I mixed and baked the cake while I practiced.