Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lessons from a Harmonium

The gentleman who let me borrow a harmonium.
The sacred musical instrument of India has taught me several lessons and I've only had it for two and a half days. Yes, you heard that right. This instrument is teaching me.

The first lesson might be considered a bit of a stretch because it concerns the circumstances of acquiring the harmonium, but just roll with it! My housemate is Sikh and I was curious as to how the Sikh worship, so I asked to go with her to the gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) one Friday. There I heard a harmonium being played for the second time in my life and I fell in love all over again (the first time I heard it was at a Houghton Chapel service when the mystical group Mandala played). I determined right then and there as I watched the kids play during the service that I wanted to learn! I talked with my housemate and she said I could ask the leader. So, a few weeks later, I went to the gurdwara again and before helping the women in the kitchen with the cooking, we asked about the harmonium.

And he said we could borrow one of the harmoniums to take home and practice on for a week! So, I came back on Sunday and did just that. Now, I have to wonder. If some strange person came into your church and asked if he/she could learn to play guitar, would you lend them one? "If someone takes your coat, do not withold your shirt from them." I do believe that this particular group of Sikhs have shown me what this looks like!

The second lesson I learned was that a 10 year absence from reading music is painfully felt! I only remembered my notes between middle C and G. Everything else required me to count up or down from those! And forget about remembering any keys other than C Major!

A gorgeous harmonium with lots of stops!
My loaner one is not nearly as handsome.
The third lesson is closely correlated. If one wants something badly enough, one will work at it! I never enjoyed piano lessons and hated practicing, but I have been practicing for an hour each day since getting the harmonium... and I printed up scales to practice. Yes, I am voluntarily subjecting myself to practicing scales!

The fourth lesson was one I was hoping I wouldn't have to learn. I am still incapable of doing two different things with my hands. The pumping hand wants to pump with the same rhythm as the notes, rather than providing a steady stream of air to the inner bellows... I will be working on that!

The last lesson I have learned is that even while learning to play an instrument, it is possible to lose yourself in the music. I am currently learning to play five taize songs and after the first few times through, I am able to sink into the music and pray the words as I sing them. Mandala combined Gregorian chants with the harmonium, and I am combining Taize music with it. Either way, the instrument is truly well-suited for devotional music and I am so excited to continue learning it and learning from it!

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