April 20, 2021

Article at respectnews.ca

Pigs and pipes and playing the full 60 minutes


Jeff Nelsen, one of the world’s leading French horn players, grew up on a pig farm near Edmonton.

A few years ago at an instructional session in Cold Lake, he explained that success isn’t a matter of the hours you put in, but what you get done.

He told about the time his dad told him to fix a water pipe on the farm. One of the joints was corroded and stuck; Jeff spent hours trying to uncouple it so he could finish the job. He just grew more and more frustrated.

Finally, around suppertime, he asked his dad if he could give up. 

“I suppose so,” his dad said. “You tried your best.”

Relieved, Jeff said, “and the pigs will be okay, right?”

“Oh no,” said his dad. “Without water, they’ll die. But never mind, you tried. Let’s go have supper.”

Jeff got the message. He got back to work and finished the job.

Putting in the hours won’t water the hogs if you don’t get the pipe fixed. Playing a horn for hours a day won’t make you a better player if you don’t work with purpose.

I think of that lesson when I hear Albertans wanting to give up because we’re tired and frustrated from dealing with Covid. We don’t want to wear masks anymore. We want to get together again. We’re tired of all this distancing and isolation and half-opening and then half-closing everything. 

We’ve sacrificed, we’ve done what was asked of us for a whole year. We deserve everything to be all better again.

Can’t we just stop?

Of course it doesn’t work that way; we’re not paid by the hour on this one. There’s no reward, no return to normal, until the job is finished.

It takes courage and discipline, as individuals and as a society, to meet a challenge on this scale. Despite some predictable whimpering, we’ve come a long way. But our courage is flagging and our discipline is softening.

If you like wartime leadership, consider Churchill: “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.” 

Or if you’re a hockey fan, consider how many games your team has lost by not playing the full 60 minutes.

Among musicians, when something starts to go wrong on the bandstand the best advice is always “keep playing.”

Which leads me to another lesson from my music career: “While you’re making excuses,” a teacher once said, “someone else is in the practice room learning to do something they couldn’t do yesterday. You will meet them when they beat you at an audition.”

While we’re making excuses for why we can’t protect each other and end this pandemic, other jurisdictions are doing what needs to be done. They will be enjoying normalcy, without masks or shutdowns (freedom, it’s called) while we’re still complaining about how tired we are.

This isn’t the time to pack it in. The job isn’t finished.