June 12

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Untangling the Knot

When I see a tricky passage of music, my brain's first inclination is an auto-jerk, "Nope. Let's see what's on Disney Plus instead."

It's quite annoying.

But I've come to see scary-looking problems as a big knot to be untangled. And when it comes to knots, one story stands out.

In elementary school, I had to read the novel Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. Or should I say, the teacher read it to us.

I've forgotten most of the plot, though the overarching themes of racial inequality and injustice have stuck.

But, there's one part of the story I'll never forget. When Maniac McGee untangles Cobble's Knot.

As the story goes, there's a legendary knot of epic proportions that hangs from a flagpole outside a pizzeria.

The knot began when the building was Cobble's Grocery Store. The knot was so unsolvable, it outlived the grocery store that would eventually become a pizzeria.

Anyone who could undo the knot would receive a free pizza a week for an entire year.

Our man character, Maniac Magee, ultimately solves it. But it's not the solving part that's most interesting.

It's the beginning.

When he sets to it, he spends over an hour just searching through the knot. Until at last he finally stops, and someone shouts, "He found the end of the rope!" And everyone cheers.

But of course. There's no hope of untangling a knot without finding the end of the rope first. That very first strand of the solution.

So it goes with musical problems and other dilemmas.

When in doubt, just look for the end of the freaking rope. Your starting place.

Then, the rest becomes so much easier.

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About Jonathan Roberts

I am the founder and director of the South Shore Piano School, and I have been teaching the piano for nearly 20 years. My work centers around bringing music to the lives of kids, parents, and adults in an enriching, meaningful way. At the South Shore Piano School, my incredible colleagues and I accomplish this through skill-based teaching, community, and an innovative, people-first business model. You can read more about me here.


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