Saturday, September 17, 2005

If the String Is Too Loose

The occasion of the Lord Sudarta earnestly finding his way to Budhahood was that after years of passive asceticism he overheard the conversation of a music teacher to his pupil as they were passing by on a boat. "If the string is too tight, it will break. If the string is too loose, it will not play." And thus he set out on the Middle Way; a way that so many have incorrectly come to view as a compromise or a mediocrity. But just like the musician's string, the extremes are useless but the middle sings.

Even the most hardscrabble homestead needs some cash from time to time. Fortunately husband's following his bliss also has the side benefit that it brings in some cash. He is a luthier, he turns ancient trees that have lived to their fullest and beyond into stringed musical instruments, harps, dulcimers, mandolins, rebecs, bouzoukis, and lutes.

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lutherie in moonlight

For him it is the Right Livelihood, one of the eight spokes of the wheel of the Buddha's Middle Way. You see, the luthier is an artist whose medium is the grain of the wood and the curve of the instrument. There's nothing practical about that aspect of it and a person can get lost in the world of the impractical and declare anything to be a work of art, as many people indeed do. But luthier work is also bound by the laws of mechanics and physics. Let the aesthetics run wild and the instrument will break apart or else sound like an old cigar box strung with spaghetti. An instrument, like a life, must neither be too tight nor too loose.

It isn't a compromise any more than the tension of the string Lord Surdarta heard was a compromise between too loose and too tight. Either extreme is useless but the Middle Way sings.


Laura said...

Thank you. I've just come from an exchange with an extremist who provoked my own extremes. But the path goes on. Deep breath... I begin to hear the song again...

madcapmum said...

That's a beautiful post, and a wonderful explanation of what it means to find one's niche in this world.

My husband is a finishing carpenter (among other things), and when he has a chance to work on his own projects, I can see him slipping into that "right" place. The wood is like a lover to be caressed into a pleasing shape and proportion, rather than just "stuff" to fill a need.

But instrument-making - geez, I'd be afraid he'd up and run away with anything so sexy as a curvaceous guitar he'd fashioned with his own hands! Best he should stick to furniture and trim.

Deb said... did I miss this post until now? Very beautifully written and thought provoking. As an owner of three aesthetically pleasing and well-made stringed instruments, I can appreciate the knowledge and craftsmanship that goes into them. Now if my playing ability only measured up...