Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Cornell Kinderknecht, Musician, Tells His Story

“I Need to Know”

One of my favorite quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh:

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”

Those two sentences have been very profound to me. I think it might be too dramatic to say they are “life changing.” But, that quote has brought me great comfort and has definitely changed how I perceive events that happen in my life. Looking at it … we as humans are often grasping for something that is just out of our reach, seeking something that without, we feel lesser or that we’re missing out, or setting ourselves up to feel that our goals and aspirations are too difficult to cope with.

Many of us are waiting for something big to come along that will change our lives -- “if only this” or “if only that” -- that giant miracle. If I could lose 10 pounds, then I’ll look good enough to go to the gym and work out. If I could have the house that my neighbors down the street have, then I could be happy.

But, if we can take a moment and look what we have right now in this moment, we may see the true miracle. I have this very complex body with all its systems and intricate parts. And it just works. Even when I mistreat it, it works. I can breathe. I’m alive. What a miracle. When I go outside, there are trees, the sun, the birds and animals, cars, buildings, the air that I breathe, all just there. I didn’t have to do anything. No “if only this or that.” What a miracle. That I have eyes that can see, that I can look and see each of your eyes, and in your eyes, I can immediately recognize your joy, your pain, your happiness, your love, your friendship -- what a miracle, right now, right here … I don’t have to go anywhere. I don’t have to wait. It’s all right here, now. I am nourished. I am filled. I am alive.

Besides changing my outlook on life’s happenings, trying to be aware in the present moment has also changed my approach to music.

Music has always been a part of my life. I can’t see it as a separate entity from myself. There was always music in our house as I was growing up. There was always the making of music in the house too. There were always musical instruments around that we could make sounds with. I always knew that music was integral to life.

Without going through a biography or resume here, I’d like to offer some milestones that I can remember and consider to be monumental in this story of music and mindfulness.

At around 4 years of age as my oldest sister was playing a song she created on the piano, I walked up and demanded that she let me know how to make music because, “I need to know.” She told me that she couldn’t tell me that and that I’d have to learn that on my own. Our compromise was that I could sit on her lap and put my hands on top of hers while she played. Maybe she intended that to be a single music lesson, but I know I spent many hours bugging her and sitting on her lap while she played piano for the next year or so after that. I don’t ever remember her complaining though. At that time, that was enough for me in my “need to know” quest. I was filled.

Around age 8, my youngest older sister taught me the notes and fingerings on her “flute-o-phone” that she had learned in school a few years earlier and she showed me how to read music. Some time shortly after that, our mother showed me where to put my fingers on the saxophone. What? Flute-o-phone and saxophone have very similar fingering patterns. My “need to know” appetite was whetted again and I filled myself with music in every way that I could for the next years, eventually being old enough to be part of the school band program.

The summer between 8th grade and high school was probably the time for the biggest breakthrough in music for me. I was the last of my siblings living at home and our mom and dad both worked during the day. I had the house to myself. Each day, I’d get up, have a bowl of cereal, watch “The Price is Right” and a “Chico and the Man” rerun, and then spend the next several hours at the piano playing and discovering. That was when I got good at practicing, reading, reproducing melodies that I heard on the radio or TV, being able to easily transpose songs from one key to another, and just developing musical skills. You know, I just realized as I was writing this paragraph, at this point, I was around the age that my oldest sister was when I told her, “I need to know.” I will never have her exquisite natural musical intuition, but I think at that point, I was finally starting to “know.” The next years were spent filling my life with everything I could musically -- taking part in every singing or playing ensemble offered, music competitions, jamming with friends, playing in bands. I was hungry.

After finishing a degree in computer science, I stayed in college and completed an applied music degree in woodwind performance. It was then that my “need to know” quest became rounded out with nuance and sensitivity, deeper knowledge and practical musicianship. It was a great time during which I had the freedom to fill my days with music. Upon graduating, I pursued my other passion, and worked as a software engineer for the next many years. Music took a backseat for a while.

Over time, the musical itch grew strong again and I desired to figure a way to live a more musical life. I managed to connect with some musical friends that I knew from the past and met up with some new folks. Musical interaction became a regular thing for me again. It was different now though. Instead of a “need to know” aspiration, it became a very creative time and an opportunity for me to step out of the box a bit and put myself out there. I was encouraged by a few friends to share my own songs with the world and to create my own concerts and music classes.

So, finally this story is coming around to where it started several paragraphs ago. Opportunity arrived that I could make music be my “work.” I hadn’t intended it to happen this way, but I left my previous job and filled my calendar with concerts, festivals and workshops. Around this same time, I came across the Thich Nhat Hanh quote that I started this story with. I started to incorporate mindfulness and awareness practice in my life and was surprised to see my relationship with music change shape. I started feeling that music was not so much something that I had a hunger for but instead was something that was integral to me and was a trait that was just a part of me that I could nurture. It was less of a “need to know” and more of a “doing.” Music is something that I offer to this world. It is a sort of smile that I can offer to others -- a welcoming embrace that might make someone feel a little bit better. It does not need to be perfect. It just needs to be expressed.

Concerts no longer need to be a show of all the notes I can play or all the instruments the audience will hear. Now, the stage is a place for me to offer a moment of connection, entertainment or happiness to someone. Maybe they’ll have a laugh at the silly stories I tell. Maybe they’ll release a few tears when a song brings back some memories for them. I don’t need to be the best player they’ve ever heard. People just want to make connections with each other and have a moment to let go of all the mental baggage they carry around. What a miracle that we can share music, a smile and friendship. What a miracle that we all have our unique stories that make up all of who we are and can share that uniqueness with each other in a way that can give just a moment of peace.

Photo Credit: Noni Hodgkins

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still “need to know” and I practice a lot and try new things out and like to show off a little now and then. It’s just that I hope I’m gaining an understanding how the power of our own presence and sharing of our experiences with others can benefit someone, or ourselves, in ways that we don’t always anticipate. We just do it because that’s what we do as humans.

Here’s what I often say in my mind at the beginning of a concert to bring my awareness to the present moment, “May my breath be pure. May the music be of benefit to someone who hears it.”

Photo Credit: Noni Hodgkins

This is Week 18 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Cornell’s story today. To connect with him, hear more and/or purchase his music, please visit the following links:


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