Singing Softly and Gently
Cultivating a Life Lived at a Slower Pace
It is no secret among musicians who have performed with me or anyone who has been to my shows that I love to sing and play ballads. There are specific reasons for this.
The slower, measured pacing of a ballad allows me to express the melody as fully as possible.
The soft rhythmic intervals feel more like oceans and less like a succession of tiny rippling streams. Each individual note gets its chance to assert itself—to stand, bend, or soar in ways that it needs to.
But mostly, I get to feel and articulate the emotions of the song and let them linger, breathe, and expand. I can be the most technically skilled musician in the world, but if I cannot truly feel what I am playing in every possible way, then I have not taken hold of the transformative power that music can bring both to myself and my audience.
As a musician, ballads are my default. Playing slowly and expressively are two sides of the most valuable coin in my possession. This is not to say that I do not enjoy playing fast and loud. I have the chops and am fully capable of more frenetic pacing (my drummer often scratches his head in frustration at the numerous time signatures I use in my fast songs).
Playing fast is fun and invigorating, and I have a few songs in my repertoire that make space for this. It is highly entertaining and life-affirming, but in my experience, if I am any good at playing fast, it is because I work intensely and intuitively at playing slowly. Good technique is not honed when one is rushed. The pursuit of excellence in anything demands space, patience, and broader expanses of time.
In a similar sense, I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to live one’s life more slowly and deliberately—instead of spending days trying to accomplish multiple items on a to-do list and stressfully rushing from one task to another. What if I prioritized only a handful of what was most important and slowed down? What if rest and recovery were much more integral to my days? What would this kind of life look and feel like?
It feels like the difference between a modern bustling city and a rural village of a small tribe of people. In a place like New York City for example, there is a diverse and vibrant culture and arts scene and every type of food and entertainment possible (from sports to symphony orchestras to more adult establishments). But there is also the population density that facilitates heavy traffic, pollution, food deserts, incalculable amounts of human waste and trash, fewer trees and green spaces, an expensive infrastructure that needs constant maintenance, and from my experience, lots of rude and angry people in a rush.
By contrast, a rural village that houses a small tribe of people will not have multiple food options or activities to pursue. It might feel boring to some without any cultural diversity or a thriving arts scene, but it is ripe with opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with gardening, hikes in the woods, long bicycle rides unimpeded by fast cars and traffic, picnics, swims in lakes and creeks, bird-watching, kayaking, fishing, and all kinds of nature-oriented activities. Without all of the options that cities have of things to do, we can lean into the one or two activities that feel more vital and meaningful.
Obviously, there are pros and cons to these different ways of existing, but the bigger picture I see involves the long game of life that stretches across years and demands sustainability and endurance. Can we move at full throttle, in a rush, with sensory overload all the time? Or can we move slowly, gently, quietly, and calmly with greater ease across vast stretches of time? I am moving wholeheartedly toward the latter.
Here are some practical ways that I am incorporating slowness into my daily life.
Drive at the speed limit.
When I drive my car, I travel at the speed limit. I like having time to react if another car suddenly veers into my lane. I also get to have more physical space between myself and the car ahead of me that is rushing along at twenty miles over the speed limit. I am less likely to get into a car accident if I drive more slowly and far more likely to arrive safely at my destination.
Add buffers to my schedule.
I leave five to ten minutes earlier to go to an appointment. I wake up earlier in the day to get ready for what is to come. I impose breaks in between longer and more difficult tasks to give my body and my brain a chance to regroup. These buffers give me the chance to take my time and reduce stress. I am not anxiously hurrying along and always falling behind in the process.
Enjoy slow mornings.
I love a slow morning. I get up as early as I can and ease gracefully at a snail’s pace into the new day. The world is still quiet and the light gently glows into my windows. I sip my coffee and proceed with my delightful morning ritual. It feels luxurious to have a slow morning to myself.
Give more time for projects.
I allot more time than I think I need to finish a task. Instead of feeling pressed for time, I give myself permission to dive deeply into what I am doing and make time less of a factor. If there is an actual deadline involved, I plan accordingly by penciling in the longer stretches of time that I will need.
Engage in activities that demand a slower focus.
I perform ballads on my piano, read books, play solitaire at least a couple of times a day with actual playing cards, and draw in my sketchbook. These activities are fun and unfussy. I take my time with them and enjoy myself.
Take the time to rest.
I take naps whenever I can, but I also take quiet breaks by myself to clear my head. This often involves doing nothing but deep breathing, staring at a wall, or slowly drinking a glass of water away from my desk. Rest, in any way that it is possible, is vital to living an active life. My body needs time to rejuvenate itself. A life that is sustainable is a life that prioritizes rest.
As I write this issue of WPR, advocating for a slower life feels like an act of defiance. Capitalism demands productivity and the delivery of goods and services at the highest level and in the most convenient ways. This requires eight hours at a minimum across five days a week, not including drive time and allowing only one hour for a break to eat lunch to replenish our bodies.
(Pardon my French, but I say “FUCK THAT SHIT.” Capitalism is antithetical to personal wellness and self-care.)
Think about prioritizing slowness and rest, even if bills and a high cost of living demand a 40-hour workweek. Implement little changes into your day that allow you to slow down in any way that you can.
The changes in slowness I have incorporated into my life have made me feel lighter, calmer, and more satisfied. My work feels increasingly less stressful and enriching.
When I play a ballad, the emotions feel more visceral and evocative. The notes are softer. The words come alive with meaning.
We all deserve to live more meaningful lives. A slower pace can hold us gracefully as we move along in this world and give us the space and time to sustain our spirits and cultivate the lives we truly desire.
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