why I didn’t play this harpsichord sooner
why don’t most people I meet have personal websites?
What for? I have one but mostly because I need the domain for email anyway and it was trivial for me to set it up. I’m pretty sure nobody reads it and it makes very little difference to my life. Why don’t most people I meet have harpsichords?
This essay was inspired by a response to a comment of mine. But before I had a chance to reach him via email, Joe Button deleted his reply. I archived it above with permission.
I grew up deeply embedded in the Seventh-Day Adventist community. Although drums and dancing are taboo at church, most Adventists can operate one or more musical instruments. Yeah, all those free organs on Craigslist are probably swapped between SDA homes.
It’s lovely living in a musical community. After school, at any friend’s house, some nameless younger sibling scratches at a viola in their bedroom. Extroverts (and masochists) receive weekly excuses to perform at church. From the pews, it’s wonderful to see friends improve their craft over decades of diligent practice. Sometimes they even let you toot their old bassoons.
Outside of Adventist bubbles, musicians are comparatively rare in Los Angeles. Some lucky souls eventually drop a mixtape or EP, but most young adults in thin-walled apartments slowly lose touch with the music of adolescence.
By the time I moved to LA in 2014, I had been secretly godless for years. In the SDA church, apostasy is a swift path to losing contact with everybody you love.
Secrecy sometimes spoils itself. After losing my god, it was no surprise to eventually lose so much of my friends and family. But I didn’t expect to lose my music too.
All my melodies were slowly supplanted with oppressive jobs and noisy neighbors and self-prescriptions and fairweather friends and dating apps and inhumane traffic and that looming fear of failure. My music became a second fiddle in the cacophony.
Or at least that’s how it felt at the time. In reality, I was just a lousy employee and noisier neighbor and flaky friend and another car and too damn tired to do anything about it.
I tried not to be lonely. I met thousands of lovely folks in jazz clubs and raves and mosh pits, but concerts are no substitute for church. Churches are different people with familiar faces every week. Concerts are familiar people with different faces.
My local hackerspace probably had what I needed all along, but of course I eventually stopped making things altogether. I drowned my thirst for novelty with externalities: other people’s videos, other people’s stories, other people’s liquor cabinets, other people’s music, etc. Such habits become invisible when so many others do the same.
When the pandy landed in 2020, things changed. No friends. More drinking. No concerts. More scrolling.
My music didn’t magically reappear when I got married in late 2020. But after moving out of the city with my favorite person, some of my self-destructive behaviors became too painful to ignore.
It took years of sincere support and psychiatry and sobriety attempts and persistence and unsexy chores and staring into the placid jaws of boredom, but my music eventually found its way home.
I built this harpsichord in 2012, but neglected it until 2022. This past year was brimming with melodies I thought were lost to time.
I’m still unsure what causes people like me to begrudgingly change after so many years. Of course I could’ve healed myself in any town or city in the world, but I didn’t. Lots of folks don’t.
It’s not fun playing alone all by yourself ad infinitum. I want more harpsichords and harpsichord players in this world. Other instruments are cool too, but I’m rocking the Rococo right now.
Harpsichords are luxuries. They are expensive to obtain, to maintain, to store, to move, to learn, and to master. I’m grateful I get to experience such decadence. I wish everybody had the time and money and emotional bandwidth to fritter time away on music, and I believe it’s a future worth striving for.
Until utopia arrives, I’ll tear down hurdles within reach. I’ve got loads of cheap ideas in progress.
If I build it, they won’t come; that’s okay. Most folks wouldn’t play a harpsichord if it were bolted to their bedroom floor. But I suspect that there’s at least one other person on Terra Firma itching to tickle some keys. All they need is a little nudge and sincere support and maybe psychiatry and a good long stare into the placid jaws of boredom.
I’ve recently realized that music makes a church, not the other way around. Every Sunday/Sabbath is a scheduled excuse to play music with friends. If you toot an oboe in just the right way, a quintent may materialize. And if you continue to meet in that same spot every week, somebody may bring a pew and some hymnals.
Thanks to all of you who helped me recover my music. I love playing this harpsichord. Consider pulling up a pew, exploring some circles, or building one yourself.
It would make me so happy if more homes had harpsichords. Please email me if you need some encouragement.
In a follow up-email, Joe Button added:
With hindsight, I think rather than harpsichords I’d go with CB radio. Which like the web is a communications medium, has some obvious utility, but most people don’t bother with it unless they have a specific need or are hobbyists. I think it’s more about the lack of perceived usefulness, rather than the difficulty.
You’ve earned a spot in my RSS subscriptions, Joe. Keep playing that harpsichord, or CB radio, or whatever you decide to call it.