Bike rides can be epic and grand, or contemplative and quiet. It's often those quiet rides that are the most evocative, bringing back thoughts and memories that extend well beyond the ride itself.
Words are like that too. For each of us, the simplest of words can be filled with a wealth of personal meaning.
One of my favorite words has always been "rambles". Miriam-Webster's online dictionary defines it as: a leisurely excursion for pleasure; an aimless walk. That's really nice. But for me, what makes the word so special is that it reminds me of Don Adcock.
Mr. Adcock was my high school private flute teacher in my childhood home of Raleigh, North Carolina. In addition to being a great jazz and classical flutist, he was also the director of the North Carolina State University Music Department and the best flute teacher in the city.
Nothing got by Mr. Adcock during my lessons. Rushing the tempo, ignoring a dynamic marking, or missing a note would provoke an animated “What?! Did you hear what you just did?" I wish you could have heard him say those things though, because they were spoken with a voice full of humor, enthusiasm, and a love of music and teaching. Mr. Adcock was tall and thin, with a full head of grey hair, and despite struggling with arthritis that severely limited his own flute playing, he seemed to bound into the room with an endless supply of energy.
One of Mr. Adcock's favorite flute exercise books was "60 Rambles for Flute" by Leon Lester. Each Ramble was only a few lines long, but they were jazzy little gems.
“I just love these little Rambles,” Mr. Adcock would so often say, looking over my shoulder at a few bars I had just played. The Rambles weren’t all that difficult technically -- they had none of the twisty finger combinations found in the notoriously tough Paris Conservatory etude books. But those sweet little Rambles had a unique difficulty all their own. They were about learning to play a melody, and playing it beautifully. With enough practice, you can teach your fingers to perform just about any series of notes. Playing a tune with a singular beauty takes something far deeper.
When I was deciding on a name for my blog, "rambles" was the first word that came to my mind. Although I didn't consciously name it after that exercise book, I could hear Mr. Adcock's voice saying the word and it felt perfect. Through those short, lilting melodies, my teacher taught me that even the simplest things have an inner beauty and complexity all their own. Given a little dedication and care, they can unfold into something truly extraordinary.
I'm sorry to say that last Saturday my mother called me with sad news. Don Adcock had passed away.
I wish I could do something like paint a watercolor, as I did in the last post about the very public death of cyclist Wouter Weylandt. But the death of a teacher and friend is more difficult than that. Sometimes the best we can do is simply set aside some thoughtful moments in the days ahead, reminisce with family and friends, take a quiet bike ride, and remember.