Back in the saddle

It’s Friday of our first week back to homeschool. After several tiring days creaking back into the routine, this morning a small anticipation stirs in my belly. While my three kids work quietly and studiously on their independent electives (one can always dream), I plan to dust off my gear and have my first session in the studio since before Christmas.

The “studio” is a desk in my bedroom with a computer monitor, keyboard and hard drive, a Scarlett 2i4 with a couple inputs, a copy of Pat Patterson’s “Writing Better Lyrics” and a bunch of sticky notes and flow charts from last year’s efforts to grasp the basics of home music production. My full-length Yamaha electric piano sprawls next to my desk at the complete wrong angle for recording, because our huge wardrobe (essential in a closet-less Central Asian house) fills the rest of the left-hand wall behind me. If I want to record a MIDI part, I have to sit on my bed to play the keyboard and slide the monitor and mouse all the way to the end of my desk so I can reach the “stop” button when I’m done recording. Not ideal, but hey - at least I can actually find the “stop” button. Progress. 

Back in the saddle again. I check my session list. 

  • Retrack vocals on my new Christmas song to sync the new lyrics (not today, my throat is still hoarse from the head cold we’re all fighting) 
  • Add harp to Christmas song → find YouTube videos on harp playing to learn what it should sound like 
  • Write a flute part for the other song I was working on before Christmas 
  • Finalize the mix for that song and send it to my production coach for his input 

I sigh. Most of the things on that list are still overwhelming for me. Many of them I don’t feel like I can do very well yet, if at all. What is driving me to do this thing, anyway? 

A quote swims to mind from last night’s delightful excursion into Roger Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb, a Rabbit Room recommended book on my list for years, which I’m finally savoring (what took me so long?): 

“No artist can work simply for results; he must also like the work of getting them…. Interest in results never conquers boredom with process. For all that, however, boredom is not unconquerable. Delight in the act of cooking is one of the oldest and nearest things in the world. We have not made mud pies for nothing. If a cook is willing simply to look at what he is doing, there is hope. And if he should ever be fascinated by the fact that cornstarch and flour do the same thing differently, there is more than hope. There is a slight but distinct foretaste of victory.” 

If I replace "cooking" with “making music”, and begin to look more closely at what I'm doing in the complicated process in creating a shareable song, maybe this year I could move beyond mechanics into a fascination with the very process itself, the science and miracle of sound waves and plug-ins and the rest. Maybe I could begin to conquer my dolorous heaviness about the whole thing and begin to actually like the work of getting my results. It feels overwhelming, but maybe not impossible? 

What is this “victory” Capon is talking about? “If a man has never been pleasantly surprised at the way custard sets or flour thickens, there is not much hope of making a cook of him.” I suppose for Capon, “victory” might look like a truly interested cook, who is actually also an artist because they like the work involved in the process of getting delicious results and take pleasure and pride in their artisan-ship. In my case, I suppose “victory” could mean becoming a musician, but I’m already a trained musician, albeit a shy and rusty one. What I’m actually attempting is music production, which is a bit different. To me it feels less organic, more technical. Less physical, more machine-based. Less personal, more objective. To be honest, the only reason I’m attempting to produce my own music at all is that I have an insatiable urge to connect with people – with you – and from this small village in Central Asia where God’s called us to live, I can’t share my songs any other way than by building a home studio and learning how to do it myself. 

By Capon’s definition of “victory”, if I’ve never been pleasantly surprised at the difference a proper EQ makes, or the way a high-quality plug-in can change the flavor of a string part, there’s not much hope of making a producer of me. But hey, guess what! I have been pleasantly surprised at those very things! Maybe there’s hope! Even if the mechanics of producing don’t stir my creative fire like word-smithing or melody-making, they are necessary to the sharing and connecting which are the main reasons I make music. Capon assures me boredom is not unconquerable, if I am simply willing to look attentively at what I am doing, and take time to cultivate fascination with the process. 

So. I will persevere. And see what happens. 

I glance at the little daily calendar in the corner of my desk. Ancient words wink back at me, from the pen of the second-wisest man who ever lived: 

“My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.”

(Ecclesiastes 2:10)


What challenging thing are you facing this year? What new thing are you choosing or being asked to learn? Is it possible to take intentional delight in a difficult process? Tell me in the comments!