In one season of the hit television series Desperate Housewives, some of the male characters get together to play music by forming a band that becomes their leisure activity. My favorite character happened to be the lead guitarist (and he played a Fender Stratocaster in the series). So I empathized and found it very likable. It’s a shame that the writers had thought of this little act to make the members of the group look like immature children who had not yet left their adolescence behind.
If my two and a half readers have followed my posts about turntable cartridges, they will have found them rather erratic. In one of them I admitted complete confusion. There are reasons to that. The first one is I had changed integrated amplifier, speaker cables and listening room in a short time period. I lost control on my overall sound so I was not sure what was going on. My few readers would know I am fond of Grado cartridges and the way the company is family-run in the old legendary labs in Brooklyn, NY. But I had some misfortune with my Grado styli and broke the two I had just when I had lost my job and could not spend money on that stuff. Something happened in that period that made me think twice about my favorite brand and caused some confusion in what I believed were my tastes. I found a Shure cart for free from a broken turnable.
Music has always been fundamental to me. It’s the only art form that grabs me from within and shakes my being. Or at least it’s the only one I’m really in deep contact with. I’ve never created music. Maybe I don’t think I’m up to it, maybe it’s because I always feel like what would come out of me would be less appealing than what I listen to anyway. I play guitar in a band that does covers of rock songs by various authors. Ever since I was a kid I used to sing by memorizing the lyrics from the radio. When I memorized my first tune I was not yet in school. From the first year of school I remember that I used to play the same single 45 rpm record over and over again on one of my uncle’s portable turntable. I kept learning Italian melodic tunes. This is what radio and TV were offering at the time. My parents weren’t very musical, they didn’t listen to anything in particular. I only had the Hit Parade on the radio and it was almost all melodic Italian music. That was what I had and that was what I sang. Immediately my sister, two years younger, followed in my footsteps.
Anyone can buy a guitar, get some practice (Youtube would be enough), take some lessons or advice from someone who already plays and then say “I play guitar”. That’s what I did. An uncle gave my sister and me his guitar when we were 9 and 11 respectively. We experimented based on the first chords our uncle gave us. And we moved on. I in particular focused on being a guitarist, learning solos as well. Then when I was 16 the electric guitar arrived and by the time I was 20 we had a small band playing the songs of our heroes in the rehearsal rooms. When people say “I play guitar” it doesn’t mean much. I’ve always said that about myself – I play guitar – but what does it really mean? Do I play it alone? In a band? Do I perform publicly or do I play at home sitting on the couch? Even a professional can claim “I play guitar”. It only takes a small-time professional to humiliate someone like me who plays in his spare time. But there are also non-professionals with killer technique. The vast majority have not become famous, not even those who make a living from guitar.
In the summer of 2012, during the usual Philippe Gouttard seminar in Follonica (Tuscany), I failed my 3rd dan Aikikai exam with the great French master. Some would argue that my image as a teacher, although since a short while, could suffer a serious damage. Furthermore, the feelings after a failure are diverse. The will of practicing decreases a bit. You feel a somehow mentally tired knowing that all you’ve done was not enough, while you were convinced it was much. Like after a bicycle or horse accident, it is important to start over again soon! Thank God I was at a seminar, so, immediately after my failed test, I was back on the mat!
For the past three decades, I have been returning to Tokyo every year in order to train with the masters of the Hombu Dojo, and every time I feel the same joy, even though my expectations are not always fulfilled once I actually step on the tatami. But it is just fine like that. Given this situation, there are questions that I am being asked rather often, particularly during the social moments such as those spent at the cafe nearby the Hombu Dojo, the one where foreign practitioners often meet between classes. These questions are mostly “Why are you coming back to Tokyo every year? What are you coming for? Why do you always go to Saku to train with Endo Sensei even though your practice does not at all correspond to the principles that he is demonstrating?”