As I settle into the routine of sabbatical activities, I am reminded that much of my productive life has been spent in maintaining the physical abilities of a professional musician – hours of attention on embouchure, endurance, air support and all the exacting coordination of eyes, ears, muscles, temporal space and equipment. Just last week, I heard of this essay, “Hail the Maintainers,” on AEON, an online resource that describes itself as a “digital magazine about ideas and culture.” The essay, by Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel of the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, is primarily concerned with our popular culture’s infatuation with technological innovation, but I could immediately see the relationship – it has been the focus of popular music to be all about constant innovation, with little attention given to simply maintaining music technologies that have served human culture for centuries. My technology is the symbiotic relationship between my 50-something body and analog instruments (that have not had major innovations since the late 19th century). Thank you for the validation for simply doing the daily work of maintaining performance skills – no hacks, no work-arounds.
As I head down the Mississippi river and land in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana for the next month or so, I will be focusing on practicing Cajun accordion, guitar, and singing in French. Hours will be spent taking lessons, sitting in on jam sessions, listening and analyzing recordings, aurally transcribing the slow motion demonstration videos of my mentors, and dancing to the canon of tunes that have been curated in that culture for over 300 years. The maintenance routine that I have developed over the past 40 years as a classical musician will be my super power as I explore Cajun music. Oral tradition is not my default music learning mode and I am relying on my practice habits to organize aural music learning into manageable chunks and then quilt it all back together into technique that will support future performances. Hail to the Maintainers indeed.