Anastasia’s Music

I was running south on Shaw’s Creek Road and a beautiful tune came through my headphones, an Andrea Beaton original that made my feet dance and my face grew a smile. I found myself humming along and by the time I got home, I had to grab my fiddle, pull the tune out of my memory and play it.

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Pulling a tune out of thin air…

I’m lucky like that. I can’t always remember the words to songs, or have the first notes of a tune ready to just start and play. But if I hear a tune few times, I can almost always play it back. I’ve never thought much about that skill, until I met my most wonderful friend Anastasia. 

Anastasia (or Aunti-Stasia, as I sometimes say in my head) is an amazing fiddler. She picks up her bow, and she looks like a professional player,  with an intense focus and drive. She’s also a  NINJA when it comes to sight reading. You can put anything in front of her, and she can play it. It is almost as if her brain doesn’t even have to register the notes she sees, and the tune goes from the paper to her eyes and down to her fingers in lightning speed. At our Tuesday night fiddle group with Sandy MacIntyre, she puts us all to shame when we get a new set of tunes, because she can play them perfectly as soon as she sees them.

But here’s the thing: she has serious trouble memorizing tunes. She can read anything. But take the music away, and she’s temporarily lost. 

I have read about how people’s brains are different, and I can acknowledge that, intellectually. But it really wasn’t until I spent time playing music with Anastasia that I really, truly understood how different people can be.

At first glance, Anastasia and I pretty similar. She’s got a handful of university degrees, and so do I. We are both medium height, with Germanic last names. We are both runners, and we play the fiddle. And we both smile a lot.

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Partners in crime after our Half Marathon in Ottawa!

But the way that we process information is dramatically different! My brain seems to capture the tune in its entirety, and I can reproduce it. Anastasia’s brain sees the individual parts of the tune, as transcribed in notes, rests, time signatures, and she reproduces it. We can both play the music, but we do it using different skill sets. 

I was running a workshop for York Region last week, and I had a room full of people who worked in the forestry sector. A quick glance around the room told me everyone was pretty much the same – outdoorsy types who prefer to wear plaid shirts and hiking boots, but were stuck behind a desk doing management plans. I imagined that everyone was going to have the same ideas and perspectives about the upcoming tree planting programs.

But then I thought of Anastasia and our differences. How many people around the table had brains that worked like mine? And how many were like Anastasia? And (gasp) how many other kinds of brains were out there???!!!

Before I got myself twisted into a knot, it occurred to me that I could just ask a question and I’d find out what kinds of brains were going to contribute to the discussions. So well before panic set in, I simply asked people to tell me how they “thought”. Were they problem solvers? Were they skeptics? Did they see a few clear choices, or did they see a variety of options? Could they hear the music and repeat it, or did they prefer to see all the notes beforehand?

As each person shared the way they “thought”, I wrote down their responses on a flip chart so we could all see them. Once I realized the wide variety of thinkers who sat around 

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Don’t be blind to the differences!

the table, I got excited about the diversity of ideas, options and models that we could generate. And interestingly enough, once everyone else understood this incredible diversity, they looked at one another differently and with a more critical appreciation of what each person could contribute.

Suddenly, the plaid shirts appeared quite different!

My take away from this? If you are a facilitator, or a participant in a meeting, or any living, breathing human being, please don’t forget that there is a wealth of diversity all around you, and that is goes above and beyond gender, culture and apparel choices. Take the time to recognize and take advantage of that diversity in your work and your personal life, and celebrate the differences as your move closer towards your goals.

I read a quotation this morning that said: Play the music, not the instrument. So listen for Anastasia and I playing music this weekend. She’ll be the one paying close attention to the notes, making no mistakes and playing with joy. I’ll be the one with my eyes closed, playing whatever notes come from my fingers, and also playing with joy. We may get to the music in different ways, but the result makes us both happy! 

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Fiddle lessons from the Masters (Part 2)

I spent the next 4 weeks playing my loaner fiddle. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I spent the next 4 weeks falling hopelessly in love with my loaner fiddle. The tunes seemed to dance out of the instrument, enveloping my ears with a rich, deep almost chocolatey warmth that made me smile every time I touched the bow to string. I wasn’t a very good player, but this made me want to play more and more…which is how one learns, isn’t it?

Me and my true love!

Me and my true love!

After getting the dreaded phone call that my instrument was repaired and ready to go home, I arranged a lesson with Sandy with the loaner instrument. As I played a set of jigs, he stopped me to ask what was on my mind. “I have to give this back today, Sandy, and I am heartbroken about it! But I can’t come close to affording it!”

Sandy is one of the most gracious, gentle and optimistic human beings I’ve ever met. He looked into my eyes, smiled, and this is what I remember him saying: “My dear, once in a lifetime, you find a fiddle that fits. You pick it up and it is as if it was made for you. You will spend years playing all sorts of instruments, but if this is yours, then don’t let it go. Do whatever you have to so that you can keep it. And trust me, I can tell that this is yours. Your face tells me that every time you pick it up”.

When I headed down to Heinl’s, I was in a complete conundrum. I walked into the store, and Ric was waiting for me on the stairs. He asked what was up, and I told him I had fallen in love with his loaner, but I was here to give it back. With two children in university and all my other commitments, there was no way I could scrape together that kind of money.

Ric slowly smiled. Actually, he beamed. He took the case from my hands and put it on the counter. And then he said we would work together so I could keep the instrument. He said “It is so rare when we find an instrument that fits your spirit, your body and your heart, and when you do, you need to keep it.”

How much money could I put down? I had $200 to pay for the repairs to my other fiddle, and I had budgeted for the month to cover that. But remember, Ric knew and trusted his clients. He stood at the counter, punching a calculator, finally pushing it aside and saying “The repairs on the home-built are $80, so put the other $120 down and hopefully in 6 months, we can complete the sale.”

6 months. I could do that. I handed him my cash, signed some paperwork, picked up the my repaired fiddle and said good-bye. “Not so fast, young lady! Aren’t you forgetting something?” This most wonderful business man insisted I take the loaner with me, despite the fact that I had barely paid for 10% of the instrument!

I learned so much from this adventure in my life. I learned that there are angels, in the form of fiddle teachers and music store owners, who shower us with grace. I learned that things we love are worth having in our lives, regardless of the costs, and there are people out there prepared to help us have them. There have been trade offs and compromises for that fiddle…I had to give up my private fiddle lessons, and Starbucks coffee is consumed only when I travel. But when I pick up that fiddle, the one that was made for me, it is worth it all.

My story is about my fiddle. But it could be about anything that is truly “yours”. As my reader, find whatever lessons in the story that you can, and then share them with others. I know both Sandy and Ric would be happy.

Fiddle lessons from the Masters (Part 1)

My hand-built beauty, complete with Clif Bar for a post-practise snack!

My hand-built beauty, complete with Clif Bar for a post-practise snack!

About 5 years ago, I decided I wanted to learn to play the fiddle. I was out on the French shore of Nova Scotia  and I bought a hand-built fiddle and an old beat up case. Through a mixture of genius, magic and good luck, I found Sandy MacIntyre, a Toronto based Cape Breton fiddler and my love affair with Cape Breton music started.

After a few months of lessons with Sandy, we both realized that my instrument needed a little work. Sandy, being the gentle man that he is, called the only violin repair shop he trusted, and told the owner, Ric Heinl, that I would be venturing down to see him. So off I trundled to Toronto, fiddle in hand.

George Heinl’s (http://www.georgeheinl.com/) is in an elegant old building on Church Street, with no sign that announces that this is actually a store. Ric Heinl and his team of luthiers are responsible for restoring and maintaining the instruments for The Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank…meaning this is no run of the mill instrument store. As I walked into the quiet front room, a woman was testing out new bows for her violin, and I heard Ric tell her quietly that “this one is about $1,000, but worth every penny”.

Panic set in. My instrument and case, if you included the Clif bar I had stashed inside, was worth about $85!!! For some reason, that didn’t matter to Ric. He had talked to Sandy, and I was as important to him as the woman in the front room (who I later learned played for TSO). Ric examined my instrument and told me what he would do. I just needed to find a loaner instrument so I could keep playing while he was repairing mine.

Loaner? Are you kidding? The only thing I could take from the shop that was close to the value of my fiddle was the door stop! But no, that was a Heinl’s tradition. If you leave an instrument, you borrow one, for free, until yours is done.

(Hello, cynics out there? Yes, one could choose to believe that this is a classic marketing ploy to buy an expensive fiddle. I however, choose to believe otherwise.)

Ric insisted that I play the loaner violins that he had in a cabinet and select the one that felt the best. Being a beginner, I really had no idea how a fiddle was supposed to feel! But I pretended I did, and I bravely drew a bow over three instruments. They all felt the same.

Then came the fourth. Oh my. It was different, richer, fit under my chin, just felt like it was made for me. Ric didn’t even have to ask. He just said “well, I believe this is going home with you”.

I looked at the tag on the instrument. $1,500!!!! He was going to let me leave my instrument (and the Clif bar, as it turns out) and walk out of the store with $1,500 worth of violin in my old beat up case. The very notion was absurd! And yet I did leave with this incredible instrument and a bit of paper saying I would bring it back when mine was repaired.IMG_2145

And how, pray tell, does this relate to work, business, to my environmental consulting? Simple. Ric treated each of his clients with grace and dignity, like they were all equally important and valuable to him and to his business. His clients didn’t find him by looking on the street for a sign, but by being referred by someone Ric trusted. He had confidence, not only in his products and service, but in his client base. He was prepared to risk a lot to provide a superior quality of service. (I might not be able to buy the loaner instrument, but you can rest assured that I will never, ever go anywhere else for instrument repair.)

The lessons I learned from this experience were memorable:

  • Provide excellence in products and service, all the time, to everyone. Make that the very foundation of your business.
  • If you provide excellence, you can trust yourself, and others will trust you.
  • The more you trust yourself and your clients, the more you can risk.
  • Risk whatever it takes. If you fail, you will still have excellent products and service. And if you succeed, it only gets better.

(The end of Part 1. Part 2 of the story follows, however, it is less business based and more personal. Choose to read it, or let it go. But I’m willing to risk it anyway).