Last month I heard american playwright, Quiara Alegría Hudes, tell a story live in my living room from an event hosted by a global storytelling non-profit called, “The Moth.”
The story was beautiful, as beautiful as you would expect from the playwright of “Water by the Spoonful” and “In The Heights.” But before Quiara was a playwright and memoirist, she was a musician and in the story she told, Quiara started with how she learned to play the piano. The part I’d like to highlight is the start of her journey with the piano. One time her aunt sat her up at the piano, put on a record of Champion Jack Dupree, and said “follow the good notes.” So she started poking around to the blues changes. Which note sounded best with what she was hearing. Ah! Got it. But then the music shifted. Ok what works now?
“Chasing the notes that go,” is not how I was taught to play back in 3rd grade. I, like I’m sure many of you, was given a book, given a teacher and taught to read the “right” notes. If it wasn’t on the page then it wasn’t “right.” If it wasn’t charted then it wasn’t what I was supposed to be playing. In some cases this is the right approach. Sheet music is a long form conversation between composer and musician. Sheet music, scores, or charts go through revisions. They’re tested and tried out. It’s good to know what works and have that conversation. It’s good to continue the trust that the composer puts in their musicians by letting that sheet music out into the world.
“Follow the good notes,” that’s a good compass point to keep too though. “Following the good notes” helps us practice the art of trusting ourselves. “Following the good notes,” helps us follow the spirit of exploration, of experimentation, of excitement. What happens if? What now? Could I try it this way?
In this summer of possibility, in this summer where we’re, maybe surprisingly, still in uncharted territory, I encourage you to “follow the good notes.” What resonates with you? What feels right in this moment? What are you holding onto that’s creating a suspension? What are you playing ahead and offering an anticipation of chords and moments to come? What sounds right at this time? Follow the good notes.