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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Quiet time

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

We have two different types of quiet time in our house. We have the quiet time I observe, after everyone else has gone to bed and I stay up writing. Then we have the quiet time I wish our children would observe, when they are awake in the morning and I’m trying to catch up on the sleep I missed out on by writing into the wee hours of the morning.

I already know they are going to fail at maintaining their quiet time, no matter how many times I poke my head out the bedroom door to ask them to keep it down. I’ve tried pleading. I’ve tried bribery. I’ve tried threatening punishment. It doesn’t matter. Quiet just isn’t in them.

I try to accept this, though some days it’s easier than others.

But what’s been harder for me to accept is just how noisy I find myself being while they are in bed.

I’m sure part of it is paranoia and concern that I will disturb their slumber, but every click of a cabinet door or beep of a microwave button seems so much louder in the evening than it does during the day.

I live in constant fear that at some point my desire for a midnight cup of soup is going to lead to a major family incident.

The real challenge for me, though, is my urge to pick up one of the many musical instruments on and surrounding my desk. I have several different tin whistles and other simple woodwinds, pitched in different keys, that live on my desk within easy reach. I also have a variety of stringed instruments and percussion toys lining the walls.

I’m not particularly good at any of them, but I enjoy them. I also find that noodling around on them, whether I’m running a scale or trying to figure out a tune, can help clear my mind when I’m writing, allowing me to step back for a second and approach something with a fresh perspective.

That’s often useful when I’m stuck for a direction to take a piece, but it can also be a little frustrating.

I have tried very quietly and gently strumming my ukulele in the evenings, for instance. But I find I’m more likely to run into dead spots on the fret board, or notes that just don’t ring true if they aren’t played at volume.

That’s even more of an issue with the whistles. The amount and intensity of the air you put through your instrument doesn’t just impact volume. Some notes literally sound different, registering at a different pitch, depending on your air flow and embouchure (the way you hold your mouth and engage the muscles of your cheek and jaw). You can change octaves, for instance, with embouchure alone, without ever changing any of the holes you are covering with your fingers.
Doing so, though, requires volume and breath control. It’s impossible, or at least much more difficult, to do it at a low volume. But it isn’t just hitting the high notes that’s a problem. Some of the lower notes, that might sound even with less air flow, will not be true to pitch.

The other night, for instance, I was driving myself crazy trying to remember the theme song for a childhood cartoon show. I knew I was hitting all the notes when playing along to the theme earlier that day while my son watched the show. But for some reason it just didn’t sound right as I lightly blew into my bamboo flute, trying hard not to play too loud and wake anyone. Every time I got to that note, it just sounded wrong. I wanted it to be about a step lower than it was, but going down one full note proved to be too much of a transition. It was too low, but the next note up sounded too high.

That’s when I realized the problem wasn’t that I had the fingering for the note wrong. The problem was that I wasn’t putting enough wind through the flute to raise the note that extra portion of a step in pitch. I just wasn’t going to be able to test my memory as long as everyone else was in bed.

Some activities, it turns out, just aren’t suited to quiet time, no matter how much you want them to be.

Now, if I could just get my boys to understand that.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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