Little by Little, part II

So, what is the point of making the effort to improve on the organ? (This is not a rhetorical question: I really wonder this!!) It goes . . . so . . . slowly---I have so little time to practice---and the noticeable results are so small (UNnoticeable, in fact) ! And I keep asking myself, "Why am I doing this?"

Similarly, about other areas where I wish I was accomplishing things again (piano, writing, poetry; things I used to work hard at), I often ask, "Why should I make the attempt to do that?---I don't have the time, I don't have the energy, and who would be around to notice it anyway? And---when I DO find a few minutes to work on something, the time spent is so small, I don't really accomplish anything anyway. So why do it at all?"

Onto this scene of listlessness and ennui comes a Great Talk. And I am so inspired!! This is why I wanted to write about it here. (Sorry it took me so long to get to this point!) It's a talk my cousin Heidi (who is helping me with the organ) heard at a music workshop by Bonnie Goodliffe (Mormon Tabernacle Organist). It's called "Poco a poco," (musical term for "little by little"--but you probably knew that already) and it's about the things we can accomplish in our lives by tiny increments.

In the talk, Bonnie Goodliffe relates how she belonged to a Piano Club where the members played for each other every month, and in 1985, a Bach Anniversary year, she decided to learn the Bach B-flat Partita. With a busy life and lots to do, she had hardly any time to practice, but she put in a few minutes here and there--literally, 5 or 10 minutes of practice whenever she could manage it---and managed to learn one movement of the piece for her club each month. This seemed manageable, and not particularly impressive, and she kept doing it and suddenly, one month she realized she had learned all six partitas in their entirety. This was significant because it was one of her Musical Life Goals; something she'd always wanted to do. She says, "I hadn't really conceived of how or when that might happen. It was just a nebulous idea out there in space. But there it was, suddenly, done."

She continues: "Now, it is almost nothing to learn just one movement of a Bach partita . . . it is no great accomplishment to learn one movement a month. But the cumulative effect was remarkable. I thought , 'How many other things can I work on this way?'"

"You may say that this kind of undertaking is not for you. You may think that you are not interested in this type of commitment. . . But remember there is no penalty for not accomplishing all that you hope for. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Besides, we have many goals which cannot be accomplished in one lump of effort, but instead require a continuing commitment. Reading the scriptures and attending the temple are two that come to mind. If you have a goal to read the scriptures daily or attend the temple monthly, what happens if you miss a time? Or miss a whole week? Or even a month? Do you just toss the whole idea out the window and say, 'I knew I couldn't do it. It's just too hard for me.' No, you just get back on track the best you can. That's what you do with your [other] goals too. Count only the successful efforts, and forget the rest. The times you miss do not lessen the accomplishments of the past or the future. Close the door on any past lapses or failures, and move forward from where you are."

I love that---because I DO tend to think my efforts are less valid because I wanted to practice every day, but I only practiced twice, or I meant to lift weights three times but I only went once, or whatever. Instead, I should be thinking that ANY step I can take, is taking me towards my goal---taking me there just as surely as larger steps would.

Sister Goodliffe then talks about small ways you can improve your abilities---learning one new pedal part a month, finding one new visual aid for your Primary music time, sightreading one new choir piece each practice. "The cumulative effect can be impressive," she says, "But it does require a decision to make the effort, a decision about what direction to take."

Now this next paragraph is maybe my favorite part of the talk. She says, "Recently . . . I was thinking about goals and what was really possible in this lifetime. I had this bizarre idea. What if, in the next life, I don't get to work on all the things that I have been putting off till then? What if I get there, and there is a rule that I can only continue to work on projects that I have already started? What if I can't begin anything brand new? What would happen if I protested and showed a long list of all the music I was planning to learn and all the skills I was planning to develop and the gatekeeper angel asked for some evidence that those things are truly important to me? I am going to feel pretty terrible about all those things I didn't even try to accomplish---all those things on my list that just got shelved until I had that mythical chunk of free time. I am comforted to know that the Lord knows my heart and mind, but what do my actions show?"

Over the past several weeks, I've thought about this part again and again. What do my actions show? Why do I keep myself from doing anything, just because I can't do all I want? So I've been trying to do something about it---trying to see each small effort as valuable: trying to sit down at the piano even when I know Malachi only has 5 more minutes of "crawling-around-time" in him before he'll start to scream---trying to go lift weights even though it's Friday and I haven't gone all week so far---trying to write something even though I know it's going to be stupid and inane, because a good writer writes every day---trying to learn the pedal parts for "Redeemer of Israel" even though it sounded better when I didn't---trying to label a few pictures in the box of "Sebby scrapbook stuff" even though I don't have a single page done yet. Hoping that somehow, these small steps will add up to something. Someday.

One last quote from the talk:
"How old will you be in 5 years if you don't make such an effort? If you don't use any creativity in your calling? If you just squeak by week after week, collecting ideas and possibilities, but never applying them? The days and months and years will pass by just the same. But, one step a week or even one a month adds up to a fair distance down the road after a while. The cumulative effect can be impressive. But it does require a decision to make the effort."

So. I'm making the effort. I can do that much, at least. And I feel happy about it.


  1. My new mantra is "only count the successful attempts." Thanks. And little by little is the only way I get any laundry done :)

  2. Wow. That's really inspiring. It's so hard sometimes to be a mom, so many things to do that aren't necessarily our "things" you know? It's hard for me--I've been working and taking care of Max, two very worthwhile things, for years, and my music has really fallen by the wayside. I have a hard time even thinking about it, it makes me so sad.
    Sometimes Kris or Max will ask me to play something, and I don't even feel like trying because it's been so long and I feel so bad about it. But from what you say, if I don't even do it a bit, I'm totally going to lose it, and I'm not going to ever get anywhere.
    Same with my other stuff. I'm going to try to do a little bit at a time like you say!
    Sorry for the super long comment...sometimes I just can't help myself!

  3. I've enjoyed reading all of this.

    The last part reminded me of the year I was deciding whether or not to go to grad school. I kept thinking how much work it would be and how old I would be when I finished. Then I got to thinking, "Well, I'm going to be darn near thirty one way or the other, I might as well be darn near thirty with this degree vs. darn near thirty without."

    Thanks for reminding me it's OK to start chipping away at those lists of things I want to do.


Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top