Stories on the edge of familiarity
Taking Music Theory Was an Act of Patience

Taking Music Theory Was an Act of Patience

During this post, keep this thought in mind:

Gardening is an act of patience. The gardener may work hard to plant, water, and weed so that flowers may come and the fruit may ripen, but they do not decide when this will happen. The garden does.

For three weeks in July, I took a music theory course. Apparently, the way seemed to be feeling about it as it went was somewhat inconsistent across internet platforms. Let me put the record straight:

  1. I was confident that I knew enough and could learn well enough to pass the course based on my accuracy alone.
  2. I was not confident that I could be accurate fast enough to complete the tests on time, especially since three weeks isn’t a lot of time to practise all the things that needed to come naturally to me if I were to write the test with the needed fluency.

One thing that the prof would say over and over again was that, much as the class was meant for music majors and minors, he understood that there were students (like me) who weren’t in those categories. So, he’d remind us that he was giving a bit of leeway in terms of time so that the non music majors/minors could still succeed, but that music majors/minors had to be at least twice as fast.

On one hand, this gave me a good goal to strive for, as the reason I took the course in the first place wasn’t just because it conveniently filled a requirement for my degree, but also because I’ve always wanted to write music. My only problem in that regard has been that the literal act of writing down the music, which has always been painfully laborious due to my lack of fluency with theory as basic as note-reading. On the other hand, this had me constantly wondering if I would actually be good enough to pull off my dreams.

As it turns out, though, I finished every quiz and test early (although I used every spare minute I had to double-, triple-, and quadruple-check my answers), despite my problems with keeping on time with the homework. And, in the end, I got an A in the course, which was higher than the B+ I was expecting in both my pessimistic and optimistic moments.

(Side note: I just gotta say, it’s always super weird when pessimism and optimism agree with each other about what’s realistic.)

So, as far as some people were concerned, I was totally confident about everything and the course was a breeze. To a certain extent, this was true (especially when time signature anythings were involved. I could put in barlines in my sleep), but it wasn’t the sum total of what this course was to me.

As far as others were concerned, I was super anxious about whether I’d be able to pass, and worrying about whether my skill and ability were up to par. Again, this was true to a certain extent. Especially when it came to seventh chords, until I sat down at the piano the night before the exam and finally figured out in a way that made sense to me how they actually worked. But, again, this wasn’t the sum total experience.

As a whole, I was looking at this course as a way to tell me if I was ready to start composing music for real, or if I still had to wait and hone my skills.

I actually started composing music when I was fifteen, and completed a handful of piano pieces that I was (and am still) quite proud of, and entered a contest in high school which, if I had won, would have gotten me the opportunity to have whatever song I’d played recorded. I didn’t win. I don’t even know if I came close. But, one thing I do know is that, between then and July, I’d only written two songs, one of which I’ve forgotten how to play.

In sum, I took music theory because I was ready to find out again if it was time for the music in my heart to finally be given a voice. And the answer I got was an unequivocal yes.

There’s a verse in Proverbs that says “A hope deferred makes a heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” I have so many dear, precious dreams that I haven’t seen come to fruition yet. But I’ve learned from this that seeing a longing fulfilled has a lot less with us making it happen, and a lot more with us nurturing it and holding it close as it grows until the time comes for it to bear fruit.

This story isn’t special. It plays out every day, across the planet, for those who hold on to hope, rather than defer it. For those who do not wholly give up on their confident expectation for good. We make the soil ready, and receive a harvest in the fullness of time.

Just like gardening, life is an act of patience.

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