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On hearing the music

Posted in Music, Stories by Alex L. on July 21, 2010

A few weeks ago, after a long hiatus, I decided to play the guitar. I own a Yamaha classical, and it had been waiting many months in my family room on a cherry-wood holder. Any musical instrument one plays is refreshing to return to again, but the classical guitar is perhaps the most pleasant.

The piano, which also resides in the family room, likes to hide its vital parts and will greet you with a rasp and squeak as you slide open its wooden key cover. The alto saxophone, sharing a corner by the window of the same room with a tall leafy houseplant, must be assembled into a whole with grease to make the parts fit and water to soften up the wooden sliver of the reed. The latest member of the Family Room Ensemble is an Arabic drum, and while it is a cheerful companion, its boisterous rhythms sound almost sad without a party of dancers to accompany them.

The classical guitar, though, sits always upright on its stand, its face looking at you, ready to be played. When you pick up the guitar, you touch its gentlest part, the lacquered backside of the neck, opposite the strings, which feels like a polished marble statue, but warmer. A sweet scent wafts from the same opening in the instrument that projects its sound, like a perfume of the forest. The sound of its strings is soft and unassuming.

And yet despite its welcoming appearance, the classical guitar is a difficult instrument to play well. I had abandoned it out of frustration late last year, when after months of daily practice (not to mention the years of private lessons I took before college) I was still producing the same dull and mechanical sound from the instrument. Music is more than about getting the notes right, I told myself, it’s more than the sum of its parts.

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