“They’re powerful, those songs. At times they’ve been my only way back, the only door out of the dark, bad places the black dog calls home.”
A meditation by Whitney Grumhaus:
Today is day five of my abstinence from playing guitar. I’ve had to quit cold turkey because I have these two work projects hanging over my head (three if you count my friend’s house that I’m doing pro bono, but still feel guilty about).
I’m way behind. The problem is that I’d so much rather play my guitar than work on them. It’s not procrastination, more like utter denial. My addiction to playing guitar and singing songs 3-4 hours a day when I should have been in front of my computer progressively went from guilty pleasure, to likely a problem, to debilitating mess that bled into my marriage, time with my toddler, and restorative sleep. But like some crazed junkie, I still did it. That’s why I had to stop, at least for a while. Unlike the murderous headaches of coffee withdrawal or compulsive peeks at my wristwatch come 5:00 pm during (short) stints on the wagon, this feels different. Worse. Terrible. Like ignoring a hot lover.
What is eating me is that I’m already late on my dream of being a real musician—that is to say, a working musician. I still have to get much better. I need to read books, watch YouTube videos, learn piano. It was fifteen years ago that I got so fed up with being stuck at my house playing alone, that I finally did something. I went to an open mic night at a local bar. I nailed three songs and the waters parted. Since that night, I’ve performed over a hundred gigs, started two bands, put out two albums of original songs, taken voice lessons, learned new material, woodshedded, networked, and still the dream is out of reach.
Sometimes I imagine how much better I would feel about my “hobby” if I was a potter instead of a songwriter. At least then I’d have something people could get their mitts on. I could take my bowls and ashtrays and hawk them at craft fairs. I could sit in my pop tent on my director’s chair and the folks would shuffle by and peek in at my wares. Maybe not buy them, but at least I’d be out there in the arena with something you can comprehend, rub your thumb along its edge. But I don’t have that. I only have my guitar. Okay, I have six of them now. I’m watching another one on eBay, but six is enough. Probably.
What I do know is that I will sit down with one of them next week, or tomorrow, possibly later tonight. The next hour will instantly zip by like I’m under amnesia. When I finally make myself put my guitar in its case, snap the latch shut, I will definitely feel some guilt for “wasting time.” But I also will have that amazing feeling you get when you walk out of a movie theater after seeing a film. You just spent two hours in the dark, only absorbing the huge faces and the lights on the screen, completely out of your own head. You push open the double doors to the parking lot triumphant. Your brain has run a defrag and rebooted. The world is reborn; anything’s possible. At least for five minutes, until you put your key in the ignition, and you remember that you forgot to pick up your shirts at the dry cleaner.
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This “peace” was written by musician Whitney Grumhaus. He is friend and family. I’ve seen him called to make music all his life, from singing “Some Enchanted Evening” as the debonair Emile in South Pacific to making music for those he has loved (with a bit of a wake of broken hearts, or hearts broken open, behind him). He makes great music. And, as identified in his piece above, he is driven to do it, and more.
Music is Whitney’s meditation. He gets lost in it for hours. And like most of meditation, it gets him out of his head and communicating what is in his heart. It is frustrating and not a perfect product each time. The key is the practice and the joy that fills him when he does it.
Recently, Whitney and I traveled together. He brought his guitar, and a good vibe, wherever we went: “Blister in the Sun” at the beach bar, end of the night Dead tunes. He set the tone, and it was good. At the end of the trip, exhausted and 50th-birthday-partied-out, we found ourselves “killing time” at the airport before the long trek home. Fifteen of us checked our phones and our flights, compared Cheeto flavors, napped, and drank beer. And, in the midst of it all, Whitney played his heart out. (You can see this in the little home video below. Whitney channels peace undistracted by his distracted and distracting friends.)
“Don’t die with your music still in you,” says Wayne Dyer. Thanks, Whitney Grum, for modeling that, against all odds (and odd friends!).
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Today’s practice: Here are some ways to make music your meditation on this no-technology Sunday. (If music involves your phone put it on airplane mode for a few hours. Figure the phone out of and the music into your life today!)
~ If you’re a singer (you know who you are!), sing. In the shower, or in a group. Stop making excuses, especially if it is your joy.
~ If you want to play an instrument, play it. Fiddle with it. (Or, join me with Elliott Delman, Lake Bluff’s greatest ukulele teacher, and take lessons!)
~ Listen to and love the music in your life!