Sitting at the piano yesterday during a choir rehearsal I was reminded of an incident that happened years ago.

I was a new pianist to that particular group, and as in any relationship we were nervously trying to get to know one another. For the second time in two weeks I had been given the task of doing sectionals with the sopranos and altos. The week before the women loved me; it was the best first date ever. They laughed at every single one of my attempts at lightheartedness and humor; I left feeling witty and pretty and bright. As I was walking to my car, I heard one woman say to another, “She has such poise and such authority. It is as if she knows what she’s doing.

The next week, however, was another matter entirely. I tried to get the soprano section to feel the pulse and count-sing, which was something they desperately needed to do. As a whole, their sense of rhythm was awful. But instead of cooperating with my pedagogical attempts at fixing their rhythmic problems, all 100 of them rebelled: they refused; they got stubborn and obstinate. Finally, one raised her hand and said, “We shouldn’t have to do this, because we don’t count when we sing.”

I could not make these things up.

The sopranos may or may not be counting, but I am. Frantically, these days. I’m counting the days I have left in my summer teaching schedule. I’m counting the number of possible cocktail corner evenings left before the chill of the night air drives us inside for the season. I’m counting (hoarding might be a better word) the number of vacation days between the summer and fall semesters. I’m counting the Saturday mornings that can be spent wandering through the downtown farmer’s market and how many cherry tomatoes I have left on the vine. I’m counting the books I hope to read before the summer ends. I’m counting the number of peaches sitting in the bowl on the counter and the number of popsicles (or “paletas” as we would say around here) in the freezer.

For the reality is that around here summer turns its inevitable corner towards fall around July 4. The weather is still hot, hot, hot, but anyone looking at a calendar knows that our days are limited. This year I began teaching my summer semester on Tuesday, June 1. And now, suddenly, after teaching nearly 150 summer lessons, what remains could be counted on two hands. “The days go by so slow, but the weeks go by so fast,” a perceptive young kid said to me last summer when we were all stuck at home in lockdown. We are no longer stuck at home, but the sentiment is the same: where did the weeks go?

My summer teaching schedule is nothing like the rest of the year. Students are required to take a certain number of lessons during June and July in order to keep their spot in the fall, but beyond that, anything goes. While during the school year little Tony might come every Tuesday at 5:00, during the summer his six lessons may be scattered across the weeks in such a way that they fit around baseball camp and family vacations, swim lessons and Spanish classes. As long as the minimum number of lessons is reached, the structure is totally free form. From my perspective this means that every single week looks entirely different from any other week. For that matter, every single day looks entirely different from any other day. There is no danger of tumbling into a rut. Or a rhythm either, unfortunately.

At first this is novel. I love the lack of predictability and the absence of any preconceived notion about how a teaching day will roll. After all, if precocious Lucy has never taken a lesson right after super distracted Dylan, then I don’t know (and therefore can’t dread ahead of time) how that pacing from one lesson to another might feel. It might be great; it could be brutal, but the experiment is at least interesting. Many students take longer lessons in the summer, which allows for the luxury to dive in deeper on a particular practicing strategy or to explore new concepts thoroughly during our time together. I discover that my attention and energy is different depending on the time of day: I fall in love with morning lessons; I remember that if I teach through lunch by mid-afternoon I’m flagging. It’s all good.

Or rather it is good for a while. Every night I take a look at my schedule for the next day and figure out where I am going to fit in practicing and the laundry. I arrange outside rehearsals during open chunks and try to set aside writing time before the first student walked through the door. One day I water the garden in the darkness of the pre-dawn and the next I find myself dragging hoses after dark, a thousand stars shining down upon me. In June the randomness of my schedule is invigorating, by July it is exhausting, the very lack of groove draining and distracting. It reminds me why routines and rhythms serve our souls.

And so I count, even if the sopranos are not. I count my sun salutations every morning. Breathe in. I sweep my arms over my hand. Breathe out. I fold forward. Breathe in. I step back into downward dog. Breathe out. Breathe in. Right foot forward. Breathe out. Left foot forward. Breathe in. I rise, arms reaching overhead. Breathe out. My hands come to prayer, heart center.

Every day I begin all over again. I write, trying to capture a fleeting idea. At the piano, I work on Mozart; I wrestle with Bach. I swim laps, tracing the black line down the center of the pool as I count breaths and lengths. I fill birdfeeders and cut roses. I perform. I teach. I sit. I practice.

Each morning the sun rises over the mountain range to our east. The world repeats its own practices, creaking and moaning through its cycles of birth and death: day becomes night and then again day; spring triumphs over winter, autumn surrenders into winter, the green turns to gold and then fades to brown; over and over the moon waxes and wanes, waxes and wanes, waxes and wanes.

The very repetitions, in the end, create the music.

 

 

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