The Music of Life

by Karl Smerecnik on July 12, 2011

“A wise person is like a jazz musician, using the notes on a page but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and people at hand.” – Barry Schwartz

Photo by Chris Tison

Yesterday I played improvisational music with a friend of mine and found the experience incredibly rejuvenating. It brought to mind ideas about the music of our everyday lives.

Every person is a musician – the body, thoughts, and language their instrument and life their music.

Showing up to meet someone for a conversation at a café is much like improvisational music (or vice versa). You don’t plan ahead what you are going to say. You don’t specify topics that will be covered. You don’t decide on how fast you are going to speak or how loud. You don’t make agreements about when one person is going to start talking and the other stop. You don’t make these rules because there is part of you that knows how to feel what fits in the moment. You have learned over time how to harmonize with people, to follow the music of interaction.

One of the reasons it’s so enjoyable to spend time with good friends is because the conversation is an effortless form of musical improvisation. You each can connect and improvise over the melody of your shared ideas and experiences while staying authentically connected to the music of your own life. This music of interaction flows when you connect with what is alive in yourself and others. By looking at our interactions as music, we have a new opportunity to see the beauty behind them.

“I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein

In every conversation, you bring the mellifluous music of your life into a space and choose what you will play. Your life’s music is your longings, feelings, needs, and experiences. In order to create harmonious music though, two important questions need to first be answered:

1. Are you in tune with your music?

Are you living authentically? Are you honest about what you are feeling? Are you connected with your deepest longings? Are your everyday activities creating the harmonious quality of life you would like? Does your life give you the same joy that feel when you hear a favorite song? Play with the ideas of seeing your life in musical terms and see if it offers you a new perspective.

2. And are you hearing other people’s music?

Are you in harmony with those around you? Playing in harmony does not mean you give up your music, it’s about finding the new beauty that arises from connecting your music to others’. If you sometimes struggle to appreciate what certain people say, think of them as a musician starting to play their solo with the jazz band. They are probably a little nervous because they want other people to see the beauty in what they play, sometimes the music may sound a little out of tune to you at first or perhaps it may be a little louder than you would like. But by changing how you listen, you change what you hear. By listening for the beautiful music in the words of others, you create a greater capacity for finding the joy of connection.

Experiment today with hearing others as being vulnerable musicians willing to stand up and play, whether or not you like the music right away. If you have the intent of listening anew and are maybe even willing to lend them some supporting accompaniment (empathic listening), you will create the capacity to better hear the beauty in their music as well as your own.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Casey July 12, 2011 at 19:59

1. This is by far the best yet.
2. Love the "look" of your blog!


2 stepintowonder July 12, 2011 at 20:01

Thanks for the encouragement Casey! It means a lot to me.

Any ideas you want to share on music's influence on your outlook?


3 Casey Massena July 12, 2011 at 20:08

Hmmm … I could write a long essay on that subject. I like your jazz metaphor, the philosophy of jazz music. Of course there's a shared framework, like our communication, but then there's also our individual contribution to it. Social awkwardness comes out of the fear of not being accepted and bad musical timing. I tend to gravitate towards people who can draw me out, like good music teachers.


4 Casey Massena July 12, 2011 at 20:14

I also like listening to music which entirely the composer's "own." Pop music — not much participation there, but you can sing along. The ideas can reverberate; they're usually simple ideas.

Classical music (my taste currently consists of Bach, Renaissance and organum choral) is more being drawn into the emotion of the composer until it becomes your own and becomes an extension of your life. Like I listen to classical often when I'm writing, so it becomes a part of the writing.

Both seem less extemporaneous than jazz though. I've been listening to some Errol Garner, man, the way that guy just messes with his timing!

Sorry, just some random, off the top of my head reflections.


5 Karl July 12, 2011 at 20:17

Great insights, thanks for contributing.

It's wonderful when we can be around people that allow us to be our full selves and when we can also offer that space to others.


6 Ina July 12, 2011 at 20:50

Karl, this reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend the other night that profoundly changed me and made me realize that improvisation, for me, is at the very core of how I need to conduct my life; I feel like sharing that here: "You seem so well-balanced, what's your secret?", I asked my friend, knowing of course that things are never as easy as they seem In answering me, my friend recounted his struggle with ADHD, explaining how he learned to craft his life to fit his brain by becoming in tune with his needs and how his brain works. He'd left graduate school and now makes a living writing music. As he was telling his story, I was shocked because I realized "oh my god–that is me". I too have difficulty sustaining focused attention on many things and need to be in a state of constant improvisation for my mind to keep focused and interested. This explained a lot of my difficulty gaining enjoyment out of school and many types of work (things that I would blame myself for not finishing or quitting). So, for me, I feel that improvisation is at the very fabric of how I need to conduct my life to avoid falling into depression. I tried to remember what kinds of things I gravitated toward as a kid in order to gain a clue about who I really am, and a few things came to mind–spending a lot of time gazing out of moving bus windows while writing a novel in my head, spending hours making up melodies on a keyboard, and finding random objects around and putting them together into little pieces of art, finding a random book around, opening it up to a random page and pretending that I was teaching a class on it–all things based on improvising or a steady stream of new information coming in constantly. Based on these realizations, the next step for me is to think of which career choices match my kind of mind and to evaluate whether what I'm doing right now does and if it doesn't, to make a change.


7 Karl July 12, 2011 at 21:06

Thanks for sharing this inspiring story Inna! Improvisation allows us to live fully present and be connected to our aliveness. I am very excited to hear of your realization and look forward to see what happens.


8 Wendy July 17, 2011 at 19:40

"Every person is a musician – the body, thoughts, and language their instrument and life their music."

I enjoyed this post and your perspective. I never thought of viewing things this way before.


9 stepintowonder July 18, 2011 at 03:38

Hi Wendy, thanks for your feedback, I'm glad I can contribute a new possible perspective. Would love to hear any further ideas you have on the topic.


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