Dilettante, n: lover of the fine arts; amateur; one who toys with the subject, or studies it without seriousness. Dilettantish, adj: trifling, not thorough.
Hmm, that sounds like me – a dabbler. But so what? I believe that everyone should try things, even if they stuff up. How else can we find out what we might be good at, or what’s fun to do? Even babies know that – we could learn a lesson or two from them. At least when we get past the baby stage we stop sampling slugs to find out what they taste like. If we don’t know whether we would enjoy doing something, we are less likely to be intimidated by the challenge.
There was the matter of the violin lessons when I was about nine. The teacher was very kind, but I was never able to produce any of those piercingly beautiful violinish sounds and soon lost heart. My mother was made of stronger stuff. She wrote in her diary that “Joanie is making gawdawful noises but I’m sure she’ll do better soon.” As it happened, no chance. Twenty years later however, during the folk song years with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and everyone else strumming and singing about peace and flowers, I learned how to play a guitar – sort of – by buying one, acquiring a couple of how-to books, learning some basic chords, and setting off at a cheerful canter. It’s only one of the benefits of not knowing what you don’t know but wanting to find out.
Soon a banjo in a music shop caught my eye – twelve strings and a satisfyingly chunky, out-in-the-boondocks sound. But the steel strings hurt my finger pads, so it wasn’t long before it was bye bye banjo and hello to an old piano and Bach’s notebook of easy pieces for Anna Magdalena. Luckily nobody told me that Anna Magdalena was deceptively difficult, and anyway there didn’t seem to be too many notes bunched up together (all you real musicians out there are wincing already). I just wanted the notes to sound more or less in the right order, with both hands co-operating. When I had knocked off Bach there was Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff to look forward to, and who knows what else – next stop La Scala? There is no limit to the expectations of an inveterate dabbler.
That didn’t happen either. But the thing about dabbling is that sooner or later something gels. With me it was painting and writing. It could have been worse; I could now be playing the violin very badly.