After several years of following the world of woodworking through the internet, I’ve noticed that a fair number of woodworkers were/are musicians. I’ve always equated woodworking and music because I was once a musician myself, and it is my belief that the disciplines needed to excel at both fields are similar. Lately, I’ve discovered something similar about my feelings towards both woodworking and music that has actually bothered me.
Roughly 20 years ago I was in a band that would play usually every weekend, an average of 4-6 gigs per month. The anticipation and excitement of setting up the stage with the band equipment, knowing that for the next 4 hours we would be playing music for hundreds of people, was generally offset by the less exciting proposition of breaking all of that equipment down at 4 a.m. with the knowledge that I would be lucky to get 3 hours of sleep. It was a lot of practice and hard work for what was essentially a few fleeting moments of joy. Even worse, music began to feel empty to me.
Most musicians who rise to the level of playing professionally or semi-professionally were born with an ear for music. That could range anywhere from the gift of ‘perfect pitch’ to the basic ability to recognize intervals. Either way, those abilities need to be developed no matter what level of ability you were given at birth. I studied music deeply for many years, to the point where my theoretical knowledge eclipsed my ability to play. I began to listen to music in parts rather than a whole; I began to analyze music rather than enjoy it. To this day, when I listen to a song, I no longer hear a completed piece of music, but a lot of individual instruments, and that to me is sad. So twelve years ago I decided to give up music in order to get married and hopefully start a family.
Now, with woodworking being my hobby, I’m starting to notice a lot of eerily similar parallels. The pleasant thought of spending a few hours in my garage is tempered by the not so pleasant thought of cleaning up afterwards. I often worry more about the parts than I do the whole. Woodworking theory has become more important than building. I’ve found that woodworking, like music once did, has become a series of fleeting moments that are fun while they last, but nothing more than brief interludes which mean less than they are made out to be. I once thought that our hobbies defined us, and maybe they do to an extent, because I do believe that in some ways our hobbies choose us as much as we choose them. But even if they choose us, I think it is a mistake to let them rule our choices, and our time, because they do not last.
How many Springtime days do we get?
How many days do we get when the sun is shining, the air is warm, and we have nothing else to do but enjoy them? For me that answer is ‘very few’. Moments of fleeting joy, by their very definition, come and go. Yet, a two hour walk in the park with my daughter, her hand in mine, and her subconscious mind knowing that while she is with me her only concern is to enjoy the day, is far more important to me than any song, tool, or piece of furniture. Those moments, while they are indeed fleeting, as all of our lives are, do not fade, and in fact strengthen with time. As much as I enjoy many aspects of woodworking, I can say with certainty that there will not be a time when I look fondly back on sawing a tenon. And as much as I enjoy furniture, and what it means, it is how that furniture is used, and not it’s shape or grain which gives it relevance. Thirty years from now, God willing, will I look back upon the Spring of 2015 and remember what I made, or not even what I made, but the “process” of making it? Will those “processes”, which woodworkers are told mean so much, mean anything at all? I’m not asking anybody, because I know the answer for me is “no”.
Thirty years from now, will my fondest memories be of a song, or a tool, or of a dovetail joint? Or will they be remembrances of time spent walking hand in hand with my daughter through a sunny park on a perfect day, not caring if the note was perfect, or my tools were sharpened, or my joints crisp? Will a set of tools, and the things I made with them be the memories I choose to carry with me? Or will a father’s love for his daughter, and the memories of the time I chose to spend with her on a perfect Spring day be the enduring legacy of my life? I’m not asking, because I already know the answer.