Thursday, April 15, 2010

Musical Arachnophobia - Divide and Conquer

When the snow melted each spring, there would be this daunting task ahead of me of cleaning up the yard. I would pull into my driveway that was as covered in pine cones as was the whole rest of my one-acre yard. It just seemed so impossible as it lay out in front of me.

When time presented itself, I would often make a decision (conscious or otherwise) to take care of some other task that I knew I could complete in that allotted time. That had to be done as well, and it was a lot less scary and intimidating.

Eventually, I knew I'd have to attack that yard. I would summon every shred of motivation I could, and I'd get started.

That, as it always turned out, was the hard part: getting started.

It would take a little while, but before too terribly long, I would see a decent-sized parcel of my yard begin to look nice. That was very motivating. It made me want to finish, and do it well. I started looking forward to the opportunity to get out there and get it done. I had conquered the fear thrust upon me by this intimidating and seemingly insurmountable task. I would get the muscle memory back, and the flow. Eventually, it was done.

It was in this that I discovered (embarrassingly recently) the concept of what I now call "Musical Arachnophobia": The fear of particularly ink-laden passages full of beams and articulations and accidentals and syncopations and triplets and quintuplets and foreign abbreviations that take on the appearance of spiders on the page. My college wind ensemble director used to call these passages "wags" (wild-ass guesses), in which you just blow and flail your fingers in a hope of creating something akin to the composer's intended effect. I love that expression, and use it too, but the "Arachnophobia" comes into play when you get into the practice room, and get so intimidated by the prospect of learning the passage that you find some way to avoid it for the moment, for as many moments as you can. This can, in many cases, result in a permanent 'wag' each time the student reaches that section, until such a time as someone tells him or her that it's not working.

As it was with my yard work, most of the time it's just a matter of getting started on the process. If you can get them playing just part of the lick, or part of the run, or part of the passage, you have taught them that it can be done, and you have got a little of it done well enough that they will want to finish it, just like the little patch of yard that made me want to make the rest of it look good.

This is a funny metaphor for me, because it goes both ways. Work like you practice music, and vice-versa. I am striving myself to conquer a 'fear of spiders', and encouraging my students to do that same.

I think in the spirit of full disclosure, it's only fair to mention that the real way I have conquered that specific aversion to yard word was to buy a condominium.


  1. I have major musical arachnophobia. Thanks for giving it a term!

  2. Brilliant, Joe. Just brilliant.

  3. Working on it right now ;-)

  4. Musical arachnophobia is a very difficult thing to overcome, but you're right, once you get started on it you can overcome it. :)