Monday, April 19, 2010

Can Spontaneity and Commitment Really Coexist?

One of the most frustrating things as a musician is to be playing improvisational music with others and to hear a line in my head that I just can’t get my fingers to play on the piano or guitar.  I know in my mind what needs to be played.  I know where the notes are.  I can hear the line.  But I just can’t get my fingers to move that way in the moment because I haven’t paid the price in my everyday life.  In other words my capacity to be spontaneous in the moment (improvising musically) is very tied to the rhythms and routines I follow in my daily life (which may or may not include getting better at playing an instrument).

Last week I brought up the question raised in the new movie Date Night – Does being married doom you to a life or boredom and routine or can a committed relationship still maintain vibrancy and spontaneity as a couple grows old together?  My experience with playing music seems to be a helpful analogy for the relationship between routine and improvisation, between monotony and spontaneity.

As a musician, some of the most exhilarating moments I’ve had with other musicians have been times of improvisation where a new song arises, seemingly out of nowhere.  In these moments there is something of a collective inspiration and working together that produces a sum that is much greater than the individual parts.  I was in a band for several years called Mary’s Den and this was our preferred way of song writing—a very exciting approach to songwriting and music performance.  In our six years together, most of our songs came out of such an approach to music, birthed out of improv and spontaneity.  I have since read that this is also the way the band U2 approaches their songwriting as well (When U2 goes into the studio they will just start creating a mood with the music until all the elements musical and lyrical finally congeal).  While this is no doubt an amazing way to play music and write songs it is not quite as spontaneous as it may appear in the moment.  While the creation of the song does have much to do with the inspiration of the moment it is also, more importantly, the result of many years of playing music, writing songs, being a fan of music, not to mention fairly mundane aspects as buying equipment and finding rehearsal space.   In other words the song arises out of a journey, a lifestyle, and not in a vacuum.

I think this is very true of relationships as well.  Married couples do need to have times that are unstructured and spontaneous, times when the routine is broken, when caution is thrown to the wind but this can only come as the fundamentals of the relationship (love, respect, communication, care etc.) are respected and nurtured.  Too often when a relationship gets in trouble, a weekend away is scheduled as an attempt to salvage things.  This type of spontaneity doesn’t usually work because it comes after the fundamentals have not been respected for quite a long time and thus the very stuff that would rekindle passion and love is not there in the right amounts.  In these situations the spontaneity is hollow and betrays reality.  But if spontaneity arises from a lifestyle of care, respect, of working through conflict, of learning how to communicate, then it brings the relationship to a new level in the same way that a band that has paid the price in the not so glamorous aspects of music can create beautiful new songs in the moment.

I’ve heard various relationship experts talk about how making love doesn’t start with foreplay but with doing the dishes and taking out the trash and I believe there is some truth to this.  The problem is that this kind of everyday stuff doesn’t seem very sexy.  Yet it is the very rhythms and routines of everyday life that have the potential to unleash spontaneity and passion in the moment if we will approach them in a different way. 

So the question to wrestle with today is how might you and I structure our everyday lives to value the things that are most important?  How might we build a better relational infrastructure that would give rise to beautiful improvisational music in our relationships?


Anonymous said...

well said, my friend...
Thank you for sharing that... it really ministered to me.

Carlos said...

Let me first give a shout out to your old days with Mary's Den. I have two CDs of the band and the music from those is still on my current playlist and is actually on both of my daughter's mp3 players. I was out at SLU about the same time you were.

I think the points that you brought up in your last two blogs are very interesting. There is definatly something about a fire that burns utlra hot and burns itself out, and one that smolders. The "wildfire" can produce momments of extreme energy, power, and beauty, but they are also fairly short-lived ("one hit wonders" if you will). While the fire that smolders can be rekindled multiple times and as long as you work on maintaining it can continue to burn (like U2). Some very wonderful things can happen in these times of rekindling. I believe that is true for our earthly relationships, as well as our relationship with God. I think that we are most successful with this in any of our relationships when we are "equally yoked" and going in the same direction. It is diffcult to establish the structures and respect needed to maintain a smoldering relationship when the parties involved are going in different directions all the time.

What do you think?

Crispin Schroeder said...

Good point Carlos. That's where it gets a little tricky in terms of a marriage relationship because as the classic hip hop song says "It takes two to make a thing go right!" (Did I just quote a hip hop song?)
When it comes to our relationship with God, He is always ready for relationship. Humans? Not necessarily.

Carlos said...

Everyone needs a little "hip hop" once in a while :)

One thing that my wife and I try to do in an effort to maintain our relationship is to go on a vaction or retreat (just the two of us)every year. This is difficult to do when a couple has children, be I belive it to be well worth the effort if it can be worked out. We happen to be blessed with two sets of grandparents who are willing to help us out with this (I realized that not everyone is blessed in that regard). This has really helped us rekindle things and check to make sure that we are still going in the same direction.

One guy that I have work with for several years has just this past year tried doing this with his wife and he has said that it really helped them shore up a relationship that had become somewhat shaky. He said that he really did not realize just how far apart he and his wife had grown on a number of issues. He feels that now they have been able to get back on the same page with a number of issues including moving in a positive direction in serving God. It actually did so much for their relationship that he is encouraging another guy that we both work with to try the same thing.

I personally feel that the very best thing a couple can do is to spend some time in pray together, but I figured I would also share a secular thing that has been of benifit. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Pi Man said...

I taught a College Algebra course for SLU I think in '92-93. Were you there then? Anyway, my answer to your most eloquently worded question is not very profound, but here it is none the less: To achieve what you asked, your actions truly must speak louder than any words you speak. That means I push my selfishness aside - not an eay thing for me to do - and realize how truly blessed I am to have a wife as wonderful as mine. Then I make a conscious and concerted effort to be a better husband than I was the day before for the gift (my wife) that God has allowed into my life. I know that's not very specific, and but in my opinion I have to be general like that b/c as you get older, as you mature in age and in faith, your needs, and the needs of your spouse will change. Today it (my love for my wife) might be shown in that I wash her car and get the groceries. Tomorrow it might be that I turn the TV off and really listen to her describe her day. The point is when one realizes that their spouse is an awesome, awesome gift from God, then one realizes that one must put the needs of the other above themself, and if that's reciprocated, well, it just doens't get any better than that. Peace. TA