Why People Stretch Themselves
Why People Stretch Themselves Pat Postlewaite
When you see people do things so far beyond their “can do”, do you ever wonder whatever possesses them? I still think about my friend Ed Brown and what he did a couple summers ago. For years Ed had itched to conduct an orchestra. Even as a toddler, when most little kids just bob and spin to music, Ed would grab a tinker toy and flail his arms in serious conducting.
Moving forward, nothing in Edʼs forty-plus years as a project engineer ever lent itself to directing music. Then at a New Yearʼs Eve fund raiser, Ed had a heart-stopping moment in front of a silent auction item.
“The Minnesota Sinfonia is offering a chance to conduct their orchestra,” Ed told family and friends with him. It was all he needed to say. After vigorous bidding, Ed owned the opportunity to conduct a piece for Sinfonia.
Four months later, Ed learned he would conduct at the Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis in mid-summer. He was given the entire list of music chosen for the concert; the piece he would conduct would be selected at a later date. Ed didnʼt disclose he couldnʼt read music.
Immediately, Ed downloaded each piece from the internet. Day after day, he methodically listened to each one, quietly conducting the music as it imprinted itself in his body and brain. Three months later, Ed was conductor for 45 Sinfonia musicians and a 2,300 person audience. At his turn, he climbed the steps to the stage and mounted the podium looking fully relaxed. When finished, he returned to his seat bathed in applause.
I was with Edʼs family the night he directed and something about that experience stuck in my brain. Why had he done it? What had possessed him, not reading music, to do what everyone else would have considered impossible? Why was he willing to devote three months of almost daily practice for an event that lasted less than 10 minutes? I knew it hadn’t been an ego trip. Edʼs look as he left the stage was one of humble satisfaction. Finally I asked him.
“Iʼve always believed stretching oneself makes for good mental health,” he said. “I knew men without goals or hobbies who died within 6 to 9 months of retirement. I vowed that wouldnʼt be me. Especially since 2001, stretching myself has sat in the back of my mind.”
As for his conducting, Ed told me he hadnʼt just practiced conducting by listening to his piece. He took three on-line courses. One required that he learn classical 18th century conducting. Another showcased todayʼs top ten conductors as they directed. “I learned the work of each of the conductor’s hands and what they separately tell the musicians. I’m left handed so it was a real challenge to do that.”
“Earlier on concert day, I told the concert master at practice that I had memorized the piece, that I didnʼt read music. When she told the musicians they just looked at each other. On concert night when I began directing I was nearly blown away by the sheer force of the music, the energy of the instruments. The feeling head to toe was just outrageous” This is so worth it, I thought.” In the end, it wasn’t just the audience that clapped for Ed, so did the musicians.
Ed said he walked away from the concert knowing he was a different person than when he’d won the silent auction bid. For him that was more than enough.
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