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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

If a Piece is Worth Playing, it is Worth Playing Badly

To specialize in learning pieces perfectly should not discourage us from casually exploring other things, like life, the rest of music, and the meaning of the universe - to name but three

At first glance the title sounds crazy, but is it? The original quote is "if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly" from a book by essayist, philosopher and detective story-writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) - he of the Father Brown stories. The book is called “What Is Wrong with the World” and was published in 1910 (click on the title for a free download of the book). I will tell you more about this great thinker in a minute, but first I will take a journey around the quote to try to come to grips with understanding it.

In a time where there is more information available more easily than at any other period of human history, why is it many seem to have little awareness and knowledge outside their chosen area of interest? There is no easy answer to this, but a good starting point could be with the lowly onion. The coarse outer wrapping of my answer is that (to take an example) guitar players know less because they care less, but the soft tissue inside tells another story:
“I would like to know more, but I do not have time to find out because it has nothing to do directly with what I am doing.”

If time is spent in the exclusive pursuit of excellence in playing, then there is precious little left over for other activity. Fair enough. After all, if you are to become a brilliant player you must dedicate yourself single-mindedly to it. The same would be the case if you decided to become a rocket scientist, or a surgeon, or a lawyer. That is why we live in a world of specialists, a trend Chesterton noted (and lamented) even in 1910. But is that it? Is it our destiny to become ever more specialized in ever more narrow fields of complex endeavour? Are there no more layers left in our proverbial onion?

G. K. Chesterton in pensive mood

G. K. Chesterton in pensive mood

Before I answer let me return to G.K.Chesterton. He saw himself primarily as a journalist, but he was a lot more than that. He rivals Oscar Wilde in being able to spin a hilarious line, as in:
"Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist."

He can write a moving verse, as in his poem A Second Childhood:
"When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think that I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing.

And relevant to this article:
"There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people."
….which brings neatly back to my questions.

We are on a merry-go-round in a world of ever-increasing specialization, and it is very hard to jump off
Apart from those vast acres of unexplored guitar music, other areas of human activity lie there waiting for our perusal; what Chesterton called the “Universality.” Personally, I would like to know more about astronomy, and about human evolution. I would like to be a carpenter and make my own book cases. I would like to drive a car across an ice field without skidding. I would like to know why Fernando Sor published a guitar piece in keyboard notation once in his life and never again. Pursuing these curiosities I feel a delicious sense of freedom, quite unlike the demands of playing a piece to perfection, for my urge is perfectly satisfied by imperfect knowledge and accomplishment. I need only name half the planets in our solar system, and none of my ancestors previous to homo sapiens. I may build a lop-sided bookcase and I may drive my car crazily across a frozen track. My imperfect grasp of them matters not, what is important is that I want to do them at all.

Here is a little verse I have written to sum it all up:
The onion has been peeled,
A thousand pieces revealed,
Carefully recomposed,
For a future supposed,
When her manifold ringed treasures,
Serve layers of sweet pleasures!

And that is the meaning of the title: success, excellence and specialization go only so far, the rest of that big wide world awaits us to explore and tinker with and try our hand at, with nothing to prove and everything to discover.

17th May 2014, London

For a complete index to my blogs click here

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=3171 .
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