Imaginary Instruments

I’ve had a couple tedious work days in a row. The kind that felt like I could not, for the life of me, figure out a solution to the problem I was working on. The sort of hours spent pondering how anyone could every possibly be so pitiful as to pay you for anything you ever make, because it’s all utter rubbish, and you should’ve been an electrician instead. These last couple days, I’ve taken to pacing around my kitchen when I hit the dead ends. It’s a better alternative to tearing my own hair out, but doesn’t come with the brute satisfaction. Sometimes I lay on the couch and toss my baseball up and down, over and over, seeing how close I can get it to the ceiling without putting a dent in the popcorn plaster. But these aren’t sure fire ways to clearing my head or finding a solution, or even alleviating the frustration. It’s in these moments that I wish I played an instrument.

I recently discovered that Einstein, when faced with a problem he couldn’t seem to solve, would pick up his violin, and play.

Apparently he even named his beloved violin – Lina she was called. He often talked about music as an inspiration and source of joy in his life.

If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. … I get most joy in life out of music.

This connection between Einstein and music seems an odd one at first, but this video beautifully describes some of the science behind it. 

Recently, Austin Kleon – my favorite author of the moment – has recently taken up piano in his free time.

Playing an instrument can sort of be a super power. A super stimulus for the brain. Plus it’s beautiful and sophisticated and an excellent use of time. There are no downsides to playing an instrument. It is good for you in every way. But… it’s hard. And that’s where I get stuck.

These last couple days of tedious work, though, full of pacing and hair tugging and rubbing my palms into my eyes, may be enough to push me into a new musical journey. Maybe an instrument is just what I need. More music could never really hurt.

My favorite composer, Aaron Copland, said at a concert dedicated to him for his 80th birthday:

I was able to spend my life at music, in music, with music. Not everybody is so lucky.

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