You know, there is a lot to be said for the benefit of taking time off. We all need to rest somewhat regularly. But in my experience, we tend to be forced to take time off we didn’t actually mean to miss. In my life, it’s way more likely that I fall behind on my own individualized and pragmatic work, and less likely that I have substantial work I need to execute and no place to work on it.
I’ve had a rough little patch just now… not a horrible one, to be sure. My progress has slowed down, but it’s still happening. I move on because that is what one does.
You can’t please everybody. I’m not even sure you can please most of the people. And I’m almost certain it’s not even a goal worth entertaining.
I AM sure, though, that you can focus on what pleases you, and that good things will follow. It’s a reminder many of us need again and again, and today I’m reminding myself.
Today we celebrated my father’s 80th birthday. It was a gathering of love and music and family. We honored and celebrated him and it was kind of perfect.
There was beautiful music there, and I’ll write about it more very soon. For now, I’m going to take a moment to take it all in. I’m exhausted, but I know theres usually a lesson here. More very soon
Just before a performance or a big test, we have the tendency to do the fastest, least productive, and most stressful work. People call it “cramming,” like it’s possible to just shove a ton of knowledge into our brains at the very last minute. (It isn’t.) It’s not that we can’t work all the way up until a big performance- we can. But our work should be thoughtful, not sped up and tense.
Let’s work to make all of our work quality work, even the stuff at the last minute.
We musicians spend a tremendous amount of time in our own heads… it’s a huge part of our jobs. We need to be sensitive and introspective, thoughtful and critical. We need to practice alone, continually analyzing what is and isn’t working.
Let’s remember to look outwardly, too. We already know the stuff that we know, so it’s imperative that we keep taking in new ideas.
It’s just really easy to get stuck. Music isn’t static; the musician shouldn’t be either.
Some days we can’t do the work we want to. Maybe an injury is getting in the way or we are completely consumed by other work. Whatever it is, there is no point in wallowing in guilt about the work not done. Let’s take that energy and that time and spend them planning how tomorrow will be better.
In most families, every few years we find ourselves at a funeral, crying and asking each other, “why don’t we see each other more often??? Why can’t we get together under better circumstances?” It’s as if we only gather in times of suffering and sadness. But there are the rare moments of celebration that bring us together, and we simply need to have them far more often. A big wedding, or perhaps a family reunion, and we all get together. It takes work, but not SOOOO much, and it’s totally worth it. Let’s celebrate more often, and now, before it’s too late.
Let’s get together way more often. Let’s celebrate. and, OF COURSE, let’s celebrate with music.
A new student came to me, maybe a year and a half ago, thinking she was basically incompetent of understanding pitch and intonation. Americans have the term “tone-deaf,” but it isn’t actually a thing.
My student thought she couldn’t differentiate pitches, but also that playing with tapes (on the fingerboard) was for “little kids.” The other kids at school no longer had tapes. (Typically tapes would be at least one step to help her map out her fingerboard and begin to play with better intonation.) She was adamant, and it seemed to be a deal-breaker. So… I got creative, and came up with other ways. We worked on matching pitch broadly, first just identifying high notes versus low notes. We studied the movement between notes, learning to identify if the notes were going up or down or repeating. When they were moving up or down, we worked to identify if the motion was by step or by skip. Perhaps most importantly for a string player, we learned to relax the muscles in our left hand and slide our fingers up and down on the fingerboard.
We both worked really really hard for over a year, and today she played a piece for me with great intonation. Not perfect, but great. This is huge! She now knows what I always knew: she is absolutely capable of understanding pitch and playing in tune.
It took sustained work, on both parts. Let’s keep at it, believing in ourselves and our students.
At least once a week I hear “I’m so tired of _______” from one of my students. “I’m tired of this song” and ‘I’m tired of this etude” and “I’m tired of this exercise” … the list is endless. I may feel tired of something myself less often than weekly, but more than I like to admit. And I’m equally faulted: when it comes to our work, “tired” isn’t a thing.
When we think we’re tired of a piece, maybe we’re actually tired of our current interpretation of it. When we’re tired of a certain book, maybe it’s because we need to push through to earn the ability to advance to the next level. Recently a student was “tired of [Suzuki] book 3″ and I had to tell her she just wasn’t ready for book 4, let alone the general rep that may follow. You aren’t tired; you’re in a slump. I’ve been there! STAY STRONG. WORK HARDER. WORK MORE.
The next time you feel “tired” of something, consider carefully what is actually happening.
Family is love, and family is chosen.
I come from a few families… don’t we all? It begins with birth, and the biological fam and folks we have around us, and then it changes as we add chosen folks. Each of my families is hodgepodge and messy and confusing and perfect. I will come back here and explain this with better detail when I am slightly less exhausted!
Let’s be and give good family. Then, when times get rough, we know we have a support system.