The HEART center where the learning takes place

Who’d have thought retirement life could be so complicated or, more accurately, that a person could make it so complicated. I wasn’t sure I had anything different to write about jazz summer school after the 2016 and 2017 versions but on our morning walk the day after the summer school finished and trying to make sense of the experience by telling Mrs Summerhouse all about it, I realised I was very wrong. I’m writing this blog the day after the summer school finished, i.e. last Friday so any clarity I have doesn’t dissipate.

The last two years I have rated the experience against 4 criteria – how much did I learn? How much socialising did I do? How much fun did I have and how well did I rise to the challenge of putting myself in this situation? I won’t go through the individual ratings from the last two years but the total scores were 17 in 2016, 27 in 2017 and now trying to objectively as possible apply the same ratings the scores are – learning, 5.5; social, 2; fun, 5 and challenge, 7. The more mathematically inclined among you will realise that this comes to 19.5, i.e. considerably less than last year. This score even surprised me so I’d better try and explain it if I can both to you and myself. And this is where it gets a bit complex.

For example, the learning component. First thing to note here is that learning opportunities weren’t in short supply. The tutors did their job well in this sense, they did refer to past lessons but also included new skills and ideas. So fair enough you might say, yes, except for me it’s not that simple. For the stuff I already (think) I know I switch off and the old mind wanders into other areas. Now it gets weird, for the new stuff I make a decision as to whether it has a) relevance, as you can’t learn everything (purely a random, subjective choice) and b) how hard is it to learn and will I be quick enough to incorporate it into my playing when it’s my turn to demonstrate my new found skill. If I think it’s too hard, i.e. quite detached from what I already know, then I stop listening as well and tell myself something along the lines of, I’ll just play what I usually play at this point and ride out the silence that tells me I’ve failed. End result some learning but maybe not as much as there ‘should have been’. I equivocated about this score hence the 5.5.

Which brings me to the social side of things. The problem here is that many of the group (about 17 I think) know each other from being in other bands together. They sit next to each other, have a laugh, talk about the music in front of them and generally exude an air of supportiveness towards their ‘friend’. Let me just explain that the rhythm section have a little space all to themselves. The drummer is next to me and you’re not going to have a laugh and a joke with the drummer because he’s behind his drum set and I, in this case, am behind a grand piano, lid and all. The two bass players are some distance away so no go there. Which leaves me with my erstwhile nemesis, the guitar player (a favourite of the teachers, yuk). He sits for whatever reason with his back to me and rarely speaks to me. I don’t find this as disconcerting as I have in past years, I’ve got used to it, but it doesn’t help my social score. I admit I don’t make much effort to interact with the others at break times. I think my rationale, thought rather than spoken, is they should come to me because I’m far more interesting than them even if I’m not as talented. Yes, I know I’m not coming out of this well.

But the social side of things is doubly weird because when I was telling Mrs SH about the week I realised that the social side of life had in many ways been my strength, to the point that it compensated for my modest skill levels in whatever activity. Cricket was a perfect example. I played for more than 30 years and it was my social skills that got me by. I might have been third team level skill-wise but I was definitely first team material in banter. Even in my career, although my skill level was decent, it was the social interaction side that really helped me and my clients. At least that’s what I choose to believe. In this situation, nothing, my erstwhile strength had no opportunity to shine.

You might guess from the above that the fun component (at a 5) isn’t going to be high. The fun component, just to continue with the complexity, splits into two parts. The fun that comes from playing and the social fun. I enjoyed the playing more this year mainly because I’m better at it than I used to be and because I’ve more experience of how to handle the down moments. So if you take a 2 from the social side and add it to an 8 from the playing side, what do you get? Yep, an average of 5. Hope you’re following this.

Finally then, the area that has given me the highest score on the last two occasions, rising to a challenge. And how’s this for logic? Although I’ve still accepted the challenge of coming here again, because I’ve done it before and it’s therefore less of a challenge, this score has to decrease from 9, to 8, last year to a 7 this year. This score could have been a maximum except that, once again, and I’m rather ashamed to say this, I bottled out of featuring in the Thursday night gig. Hmm.

I had to tell the organiser that I wouldn’t be coming – again, and what she said was interesting. In brief it went like this. It won’t be the same without you (true they’ll get a better piano player) and you’re part of the gang. Entirely well-meant of course but encapsulates at the stroke the problem. Namely, I do not feel part of the gang at all. In a cricketing equivalent situation, where I was part of the gang, there would have been no question of not taking part in the equivalent. For one reason I would have felt I was letting the team down, loyalty and all that, and the piss-taking would have been merciless. All that means is that when you are genuinely part of the gang non-participation simply isn’t an option. Here it definitely was. But I didn’t say any of that because the comment was well-meant and it would have been churlish to contradict and maybe this blog already has enough churlishness. You judge.

P.S. Having written this blog I allowed myself to watch a bit of cricket and, no surprise, it’s raining, but the good news is they showed a programme called Mind Games about the psychology of cricket. So many similarities between playing cricket at the highest level and me playing piano at summer school. One small example – when you’re nervous you lose your capacity to think. Obvious yes, but reminded me with much else of the psychological side of summer school.

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