Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wellness Activity: Harmonica Healing (2)

At first I was going to write all about my lesson. I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway on a beautiful day, and the ocean was a blue-green. Then I drove up into the mountains--so high up that it seemed like I was going to touch the sky. I had my lesson, and truly learned how to mouth the harmonica and draw (breathe in) the second hole, which is the very hardest. And the other pupil, a guy named Brian and I jammed (after a fashion) with Jon, our teacher.

At first I thought I had enjoyed myself. Jon is undoubtedly a good teacher for many people. He truly knows how to teach blues harmonica. He's very enthusiastic and has a high energy level. And he's dedicated to teaching his students how to play so they have a feeling of accomplishment.

In fact, I was on a high when I headed home a few hours later, but it quickly dissipated, and I felt sad, and disappointed, and initially I couldn't figure out why. So, I replayed my lesson in my mind, and it came to me. Actually, there were three things about my lesson that really bothered me.

First, Brian, the other pupil, had been to three of Jon's harmonica camps, so Brian had a lot more experience than I did, and Jon knew him. That would have been okay except I felt Jon was way more supportive of Brian than he was of me. And yet, for a first lesson, I felt I did a really good job.

Second, I didn't feel that Jon listened to me. Before Brian arrived, I told Jon that my goal in taking lessons was to return to my mom's assisted living facility and play for people. He heard me say the words, but we focused on what he wanted to teach rather than on what I wanted to learn.

Third, he didn't let me play in a way that was comfortable for me. For the first part of the lesson, he kept on saying that my lips were too tight, and I was tense. He was right. Here I am playing an instrument that I've never been trained to play, and I'm playing with another student who's been doing this for years, and I'm put on the spot to play aloud when I'm making mistakes.

And I handled it all very well. But, at one point Jon said, "You need to relax. Just think about playing in your bedroom, and release the tension in your face."

I said, "Actually, I do play in my bedroom. So, if I can lie down on your couch rather than sitting upright in the chair, I'll probably do better."

He said it was okay, and the minute I lay down, and visualized myself in my bedroom, I was able to relax for the first time in the lesson, and my tone really improved. What was interesting was that within five minutes, Jon said, "I need you to sit on the chair and look at me because when you're on the couch, you're not connecting to me."

So, I sat up, and tensed up. Where Jon and I differ is that I believe the key to good teaching is to let the student learn in his or her own way. Although Jon didn't ask me, my problem was that I couldn't concentrate on him, learn all the new things he was trying to teach me, and try to keep up with Brian who had years of experience, and still enjoy myself.

When I arrived home, I was in somewhat of a funk. I realized that while I had learned how to mouth the harmonica, my other needs weren't met. Perhaps most people just want to enhance their skills, but I also want to play in a way that expresses my love of the instrument.

For almost three years, my harmonica and I have developed a relationship. It's not just the instrument that Monroe played with me at mom's assisted living facility. It's also accompanied me on the most difficult journey of my life. I quietly played it when my mother was in the hospital and sleeping, when she broke her knee and we spent ten hours in the ER at the hospital, when she was sleeping in her room and I was too exhausted to leave and needed to try and revive myself before driving home, and when she was dying and I couldn't play the Autoharp because it made me cry.

If Jon had asked me or listened to me, he might have learned that I care less about mastering skills than enjoying myself. For me, there is a Zen of harmonica playing that supersedes everything else. So, while I will practice what he taught me, I will do it at my own pace and in my own way.

I will close my eyes and hear the sounds that comforted me during the most difficult period of my life. And then, I will practice the exercises Jon, Brian, and I did together. But I will lie on my bed with my eyes closed, blow and draw, and remember mama and Monroe--both of whom would be thrilled that I'm playing music once again.


Gianna said...

sweet Susan,
I'm glad you were able to immediately see what the situation was and can now take care of yourself and truly enjoy your passion...on your own terms!

Good for you.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

This is a big sign of growth for me. I'm getting better and better and seeing my needs and taking care of them.

Even if I can't determine them right away, and it takes a few hours to figure things out, ultimately I'm able to determine what I want and need and pursue it.

Thanks for your support!


Jazz said...

It sounds as if you know what you need far better than the teacher does...take what you can from him, but have the confidence in yourself to use it in whatever way you need to. There is no one "right" way to do something as personal as making music!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz,
That's what I've believe too. A few years ago I would have felt bad that I was disappointed. And my feelings would have been hurt that he wasn't that supportive.

But now I've learned to focus on the good stuff, clarify the "bad" stuff, and move on.

The drive was truly spectacular. I learned how to play much better. I've been feeling sad because I've been missing my mom lately, and in the last years of her life, music was such a great bond between us.

And in general, at this stage in my life, I feel good that I know what I need, I can figure out whether I'm getting it in a fairly short time period, and when I'm disappointed I can move on.

I awakened this morning within a twinge of depression--all good things.


Jazz said...

I'm sorry that you're missing your mom...*hugs* to's good that you have some wonderful memories of your time together. My mom and I are close, and I can't imagine what it will be like not to have her around.
Love and hugs,

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks Jazz. I really appreciate it. My father died in the fifth month of my pregnancy--19 years ago. I still miss him, but not so viscerally.

But, yesterday, when I saw the ocean, I began to cry. My mother was cremated and wanted to be buried in the ocean. So I got a biodegradable urn and walked into the waves and let it float, while throwing rose pedals. It's a story for another time. (It's against the law--you have to be two miles from the shore to make it legal--and I was so worried about being caught that it makes a wonderful story.)


P.J. said...


I LOVED this post. I loved to hear some of the sensitive side of you. A lot of the things you write are facts, or issues, etc., but this was different. I felt your writing. It's one of those times where I'd just like to give you a hug and say, "That was very sweet."

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks P.J. I hope you're feeling better!