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Playing it By Ear
Play by Ear.jpg

Planning is overrated.  My experience is that even the best-laid plans go awry.  No matter how meticulous you are, how thorough your due diligence is or how accurate the data backs ups your assumptions, given the unpredictability of life, something is bound to change.  And change can bring down the titans of strategy, the leaders of tomorrow, and the stalwarts of today.  I’ve often wondered why the MBA programs, the college-bound courses in high school or the technical training institutes neglect to teach how to lead in the midst of chaos or how to find the path by following your intuition.  Scientists are trained to look for the unlikely, embrace the unusual, to doubt the given.  Musicians are gifted if they can play by ear, knowing the most powerful lesson is learning to listen. They listen for the pitch, for their cue, for the harmony, and for the rhythm.  And they listen for the phrase, the breath, the lyric and the melody.

So what would happen if we lived our lives more like a musician than a planner?  What would be different if we relied on intuition and learned to live by playing it by ear?  What would we risk, but even better what would we gain?  I think if we listened more, we would hear the quiet desperation in the lives around us, but we also would hear the sweet song of the waking bird.  We would notice when our pulse quickened and would be able to tell if it was from fear or from infatuation or even from both.  We would not dismiss the feeling to the fact that we had consumed too much caffeine or the need for an overdue medical check-up.  If we listened to our inner voice we would spend the time to write that story, or the great American novel rather than take the next big promotion that promises a bigger paycheck and less time to do what you really want to do.  We would be able to see when our kids were telling white lies because they have learned that their parents never listen anyway and we would be able to ask that question that drives to the heart of what is bothering them. 

I imagine if we played our day by ear, we would be open to possibilities that normally wouldn’t even register.  We wouldn’t just focus on our part, but like a musician be aware of every other person’s part and be just as adept at coming in on cue as improvising, jamming and finding a new sound.  When the key changed, we would adapt a half step or adjust the chromatic scale so we were still singing the same song.  To overcome the monotony of playing the same tune we would learn new rhythms, new styles, and new genres.  Over time, the most liberating aspect of learning to live one’s life by playing it by ear is that there no longer is no distinct “right” or “wrong” way, but as a skillful listener, musician, arranger, and/or performer you would be confident that there is a through line that is found only by hearing the notes being played, respecting the rests, and throwing yourself into the process.  If you listen hard enough, you no doubt will hear the music, and music is the salve to the soul.

© Kelly Tweeddale 2012