What Makes You

Over the past 24 hours, my new neighbors downstairs, the musicians, have been experimenting with the electric organ and its possibilities in the landscape of their music. Primarily, this has consisted of two chords being played one after another, over and over in a sort of trance-like repetition. They worked with these two chords for many hours last night. Then again, today in the morning. And right now, they’re still playing the two chords.And they’ve added a very 90s-esque electric guitar.It’s not terrible, it’s just part of being a musician. I get it. Sounds like crap to everyone who has to hear the process, but that’s how music is written. It’s just that most of the time we don’t have to hear the rough sketch.

But now…now they’ve added bad electric drums. And the synthetic bass drum is buzzing in my ears, threatening to drive me insane or wake my napping child (or likely a combination of the two). It’s taking everything in me to not go down there, channel my inner 85 year old woman, and tell them to, “keep that derned racket down!”

I started a speech in my head. It went something like, “Hey guys, can you keep it down a little? Maybe plug in some earphones? I mean, I’m a musician…I get it, but…”

I had hit a sticking point in my imaginary speech. “I’m a musician?” I asked myself. I mean, I am. I think. The thing is, I haven’t written anything new or recorded anything new in many years now, so I’m getting dangerously close to the phrase “I was a musician.” Now that my mind had unearthed this little insecurity, I had to grab it. Pick at it. Figure it out.

Am I really so out of practice that I can no longer be called a musician? Was I ever good enough to make that claim to begin with? What makes you a musician? What makes you anything?

Bach off I'm a Musician
By ryanmotoNSB

In the end, the thing that makes my noisy neighbors musicians is this: they are actively playing music. Right now their fingers are pressing down on those same two chords, searching for something to come out in just the right way. They are playing music. They are being musicians. And that’s it.

When my older brother and I were in high school he got on the tennis team. He wasn’t the school champion or anything, but he worked hard and he was steadily improving. One day, he came home after tennis and made a bold proclamation: “I’ve figured out the key to playing tennis!”

I had no real interest in playing tennis, let alone being any good at it, but it’s hard for me to pass up the key to anything, so I asked him what it was. “You just hit the ball over the net,” he said. He gazed out the window with a quiet reverence as if he had just discovered string theory. I thought he was a little bonkers. I wondered what he had been trying to do with the ball up until that point.

Looking back, though, I think he’s kinda right. Getting the ball over the net really is the whole goal, right? Maybe the key to being a musician is just to play. And the key to being a writer is just to slam your fingers against the keyboard relentlessly until the words pour out.

Get the ball over the net. Let the notes ring out. Get some words on the page. Sooner or later you’ll get the ball over the net more times than not. And you’ll have a 45 minute set. You’ll have a book, or a memoir, or a journal, or a screenplay. And then maybe you’ll be what you set out to be.

Perhaps it’s simply the doing that makes you.

What Makes You