Dance of the Hours

Heaven knows, I spent my share of time sweating in the vineyard. But there is one lazy Saturday afternoon years ago that I still feel guilty about. It was during the winter, when I was around ten. My father, grandfather, and brothers were pruning directly west of the house. Though I hadn�t yet learned to prune, I had learned to help by dragging the brush into the center of the row so that it could be shredded later on. I had also learned to use a pair of shears to cut the twine that held the previous season�s canes in place on the wire, and to cut some of the extra brush away to make the work easier for the others.

It was a lovely, melancholy day: cold but not too cold, overcast, windless. My mother was in the kitchen. I was seated at the piano. The idea was to spend half an hour or so after lunch practicing my lesson. But for some reason, I sat there for three full hours, during which time I played my way through several books, trying this piece by Beethoven and that by Mozart, with a little Brahms and Haydn thrown in, simplified snippets of symphonic works I had heard on our record player, a barcarole here, a mazurka there, and on and on.

The interesting thing is, I had never played that long before. But I wasn�t playing to avoid working in the vineyard. My mother said nothing. From time to time, I would think of the others and feel a twinge of guilt. And yet, no one had said specifically that I was supposed to be helping them. I was taking piano lessons. Practice was part of the bargain. And since I rarely practiced enough, playing all afternoon seemed like a big step in the right direction.

The hours didn�t pass as hours usually did. They simply turned to mist and were absorbed by the gray winter light coming in through the windows. While I was playing, I listened to the music with a new kind of pleasure. I was surprised to see that I was playing more fluidly, and with fewer mistakes.

I was still playing when my father and brothers quit for the day. When my father came into the room, I immediately understood by his expression that he had been expecting me to help in the vineyard. He didn�t scold me, but he let me know in a few words I have forgotten that I had made a wrong decision. It was a sad, confusing moment. It was confusing because I had been so happy, and sad because it seemed my father thought playing the piano was less important than pruning vines.

Looking back, I can say this was the first time that I experienced the age-old conflict of Art versus Practicality. My father had every right to feel the way he did, because he was responsible for the farm and for our well-being. And I had every right to be carried away by the act of making music. Instinctively, even then, I knew we were both right. I still know it. I also know hard work and ability don�t always put food on the table. Sometimes luck puts it there, sometimes pure accident. Now, in my ancient, foolish wisdom, I gratefully accept each way in turn. Still, the memory of that day lingers. I wish I had helped in the vineyard that day. I�m also glad I didn�t.

September 22, 2005

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