It was many years ago, but I have never forgotten what my friend Al said to me on a warm summer evening in June.
Jan and the kids were out of town one night in the summer of 1990, and my friend Al Kirsh and I spent an evening together as I played my tenor recorder and Al played our family piano.
Al is an accomplished pianist. He’s one of those guys who sits down to play and in no time, a crowd gathers round to listen. He can play nearly anything and he does it with an ease and virtuosity that is truly impressive.
I stood at his side and watched his hands race up and down the keys. I marveled at his coordination and his ability to play chords with his left hand and the melody with his right. At one point I remarked about this skill to use two hands at once in making his music. He looked at me and said, “You’ve got it wrong. I watch you play your recorder and I see you use two hands to make many of the notes you play.”
I had never thought of that before, but he was right. I do use the left and right hand simultaneously to create many of the notes I play.
I continued to watch him play and he did so with the ease and alacrity of a man who believed in himself. Over and over he went pressing out chord after chord, melody line upon melody line creating the most beautiful tunes.
Impressed with his talent and ignoring my own, I said, “I’d give anything to be able to play like that.”
He leaned into the piano pressing out another chord then smiling, he looked up at me and said, “Anything? Anything but practice.”
And with that simple utterance my life changed. I saw at once that whatever I truly wanted I could have. By intuition I realized that the things I wanted were the things that were within me to have. There are things in me that talent can provide but only when coupled with practice — the handmaiden of accomplishment.
There are desires in me, desires in all of us that attract us because the Creator has placed in us an aptitude for these things. He would not have placed them there at the foundation of our creation had He not provided us a way for them to come to fruition.
Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” To this I would add, “I want therefore I will have.” And I need give only one thing to make my dreams come true. Practice.
I no longer say I’d give anything for this or that. I now simply look inside and ask if I truly want it. And if the answer is yes, I get myself a plan and I start in to practice. And I practice until that thing is mine.
It was a long time ago but I’ve never forgotten those words. Anything? Anything but practice.
Richard Talbot is a columnist and freelance nonfiction journalist living in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. He is the author of three forthcoming books: The Best Part of the Day; The House on Idaho Avenue; and Chalk Drawings.