Last night, Dan and I went into to DC to hear a concert by "one of the world's greatest flutists" (according to the program), Emmanuel Pahud. The concert was in the music hall of the Phillip's Collection, so The Repentant St. Peter hung behind the pianist (Eric LeSage) and the works of great French impressionist painters hung all around. Add to that a stop at Teaism for tea and a salty oatmeal cookie both before and after the concert and needless to say it was a wonderful night.
Pahud is a brilliant player, even better in person than on the recordings I've heard. He was technically perfect and his pitch was impecable in every register (not an easy thing on the flute). When he played low, his flute sounded as resonant as a cello, and his highest notes were still rich and full. My flute teacher, Carrie Rose, put it this way: "Everything had a color, everything had an idea. The entire night was riveting."
But what stayed with me all day today was the experience of hearing and seeing someone do something very difficult with so much grace and mastery that it looks easy.
Watching him play reminded me of the time I watched the Boston Marathon at the top of heartbreak hill. The people at the front--the people who were going to finish the race in two hours and change--looked relaxed and smooth as they ran past. Three hours later, there were still people running past, but those people looked like they were exerting themselves to the point of near death.
When I run a race, I tend to cross the finish line red-faced, drenched in sweat, and unable to move again for the next 20 minutes or so. If I ever run a marathon, I am pretty certain I'll one of those people who look like every step is a struggle. And I'm well aware that my flute playing can have a similar feel--I squeeze my right hand hard to get the low notes to come out, and squeeze my mouth to get the high notes.
But here's the puzzling thing--in order to play like Pahud, or to run like Robert Cheruiyot, you have to be willing to exert an enormous amount of effort. You have to train, to practice, longer and harder than anyone else around you. Then, somehow, all that effort becomes invisible, and something easy and fluid emerges.
That's a miracle that I never stop wondering about. When I do something that takes a lot of effort, I want people to know about all the effort I'm putting out. I don't usually go around saying "This took me hours!" but I am deeply satisfied when people see something I've done and say, "That must have taken you hours!" I guess I figure that if my results aren't that beautiful, at least I'll "get points" for effort.
But listening to Emmanuel Pahud makes me reconsider that habit. I don't want to just be a hard worker--I want to be easy and graceful and fluid and loose. The more I've met the Holy Spirit, the more I want to live my life with openness and invitation. I want Carrie's lessons on openning my throut and relaxing my hands to be lessons for life--so that not only will I fill my flute with open, easy breath, but that God will find me to be a ready instrument, ready to be inspired.
P.S. To get a sense of Pahud's playing, check this out.