by Mark Dvorak
By the powers of grace and love alone were any of us given the chance to walk around on this earth in the first place. And in the end life is short. The arc of a lifetime is but a summer; a flash of light.
Upon birth you are given a name and your older brother’s clothing. You are given crayons and toys and you learn which streets you are not to cross unaccompanied. A random and lengthy string of educators work at guiding and instructing you. They holler and cajole, reward and discipline you. And then they holler some more.
Somewhere in there a navigation system, shaped by the beliefs and attitudes of your elders, gets handed down and finds its way into your waking hours. The preferences and biases begin to make themselves known while at some point, hair begins to appear on different parts of your body and members of the opposite sex become permanent citizens of your daily reverie.
Then come the graduations, the career choices, the weddings, an adventure here or there, and a never ending responsibility to family. Then come the divorces. After a time, life as an adult tends to teeter-totter between owning stuff and making payments.
And after you catch your breath and are able to look back, the whole thing sometimes appears as though it were planned in advance by some guy with a bigger clipboard than an interrogator in an Orwell novel; who has no more sense of humor than your seventh grade literature teacher on book report day. And at these times, you wonder: Is something maybe missing here? Could it be I’ve been robbed?
Some come to this realization earlier, rather than later. But those of us who come to it at all begin the search for that missing thing. Not so many clues this time. And at first, not so much help or instruction is available. And now you have to buy your own clothes.
We learn to navigate by a new and mystifying set of parameters, some of which are stashed way down there in the dark parts of human consciousness. And we wander around in this darkness, looking for light, bumping into one another at the coffee house, the folk concert and the jam session. We scan the room for familiar eyes at the festival, the open stage and in music class.
We practice. We work at polishing away another layer of the adult we had to become so the light of our true creative selves might shine again more brightly, more musically, than before.
As I write, my twenty-fifth year of teaching at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago is already begun. And after all that time, there is still so very little of which I am certain. I came to teaching like many others who were innocent and looking to generate a little income. Over time one begins to learn the ropes. And over time one learns to watch and listen in different ways. One learns when to help and how much to help. And then you learn when to get out of the way.
I’ve mostly enjoyed the many students with whom I’ve crossed paths over the years. A few have gone on to successful careers in music and I guess I'm a little proud of that, however fleeting the association. But many, many others have found a meaningful way to weave music into the fabric of their daily lives, and these are the folks I have been the most happy to work with.
It’s kind of a privilege to get the chance to watch them tinker and work and think and get excited, and sometimes discouraged too. And then they come back next week, or next summer and we pick up again, their fingers more sure, their voices lighter and more tuneful. It’s a neat thing to witness, and sometimes a little touching. The music they make stands as hard evidence, a kind of proof, that there is more to living than keeping up with a mortgage, or keeping up with the Joneses. With music, we get to tell ourselves and the world, who we really want to be and over time, who we really are.
So on we go, as my friend Art Thieme used to say. Hope to bump into you again soon. Happy New Year.
This article appears in “The Quarter Notes,” the newsletter of the Plank Road Folk Music Society. Visit their site at www.plankroad.org and become a member today.