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Practice as Refuge

Practice as Refuge


The catfish ain’t bitin,’ the roof is leakin,’ and papa needs a new pair of shoes.

We all have concerns and worries. We dwell, we're uneasy, we're consumed with anxiety. We dedicate are every waking moment to solving our seemingly, unending torrent of problems.

As “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” to quote MacBeth, “creeps in this petty pace from day to day,” we have a refuge…practice

My job, and yours as well I'm sure, can be all consuming. I often need to solve problems that have no solution. As the days pass and the solution is still not evident, my mind is engulfed with concern and worry. It is all I can think about.

My gut is tied in knots. I lay awake at night running potential solutions through my mind. When I wake, that brief moment of relaxation is interrupted when I realize the problem remains unsolved. Because the problem has consumed me, I feel compelled to dedicate every waking hour to finding the solution.

My situation is not unique. In a world where we are told to “work smarter,” we know that the phrase is management double-speak for “do more work with fewer people.” Budgets are tight and jobs are precious. It is a reality with which we have to live.

An unfortunate side effect, in my situation, of being consumed by work is that I cannot find time for bagpipe practice.

I am a great believer in daily music practice and have observed that regular practice leads to improvement. This is not startling nor am I presenting an original concept. As Dr. Michael Domjan notes, in order to move our skills and levels of performance, we must, through regular practice, move “our range of conscious control to automatic performance.” Dr. Tomjan adds that regular practice affects virtually everything relating to a musical instrument. It affects how we hold the instrument, avoiding crossing noises, and blowing steady tone. We often forget that, because of regular practice, we can perform the most basic skills. If you can pick up your bagpipe and start playing, you can do so because of regular practice.

If you don’t practice regularly, you have to relearn, as it were, many basic skills. You may have to slow down your gracenotes in order to execute them correctly. As a consequence, you have to reduce the tempo on the the march that you were playing well at 80 beats per minute. Your reeds may have dried up and may take days, or weeks, to get back into proper working order. And that tone, tone that you had worked so hard to keep steady, may waver. I can speak to this from experience. Because I am often consumed with problems at work, I have “had to” forego regular practice sessions.

I decided to back up the truck. I had made a decision that I wanted to improve as a piper. Because I was not practicing regularly, I was not honoring that decision; I was not improving.

I reexamined the problems that I faced at work and concluded that they were long-term problems. They would still be there if I did or did not practice. So, I religiously started each day with a practice session, a focused practice session.

I found that, as the days passed and the number of practice sessions began to tally, I was able to put aside the issues in my work and personal life, at least for the duration of the practice session. My practice sessions became a refuge. My sessions gave me, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, “shelter from the storm.” I found myself able to focus on the long-term problems related to piping. I found myself improving.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow” will always “creep in this petty pace from day to day.” The problems that we face in our personal and work lives will always be there. But, for a brief spell, you can, as I have, seek shelter from the storm in a daily practice session. Whether that session is five minutes or an hour, a focused practice session can take you away from your daily anxieties. You will also improve as a piper.

The catfish may not be bitin,’ the roof may be leakin,’ and papa may need a new pair of shoes. But, if you seek refuge by practicing every day, you can set your cares aside and improve your piping at the same time. That’s what I call “working smarter.”

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Mark Olson Mark Olson is a software engineer in Omaha, NE. Over the years, he has played numerous musical instruments including the bagpipes, guitar, piano, flute, and saxophone. As a young man, Mark competed as a solo piper. Due to the demands of raising a family, Mark had to forgo his musical pursuits. While he regrets the fact he gave up the bagpipes, he is proud of the fact that both of his sons have grown to be fine young men. With the nest now empty, he has picked up the pipes once again. If he gets his chops, and his groove, back, he plans to compete again as a solo piper.