Saturday, October 06, 2012

Dedication, Obsession, Fanaticism and the Happy Hobbyist

It’s not the same for everyone; the only thing we know for sure is that in our quest to be successful in the musical world it takes work, how much work and the intensity of that work is personal, but it takes work. Sometimes the decision of how much work is made by choice and sometimes it’s made simply because of our individual unique natures. Whatever our personal nature though, there is still room for some choice; we are all our own teachers and that being so, we all need to make our individual personal teaching decisions.

With a Smile or a Tear?

Let’s hope the “Good ol’ days” are gone forever: “The good ol’ days” when the enraged maestro would strike the student’s fingers with a cane or a ruler when he or she missed a note!

In our personal practice habits, where is that optimum line where patience and perseverance are in good balance?

I have a very good friend, an old colleague, exactly my age, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who used to profess, and I fear believed, “A good musician is a scared musician!” What a sad (and inefficient) approach to making music!

I also know an extremely talented young woman whose mother believed she should practice for her piano lessons only when she wanted to. Of course, the young girl always opted to go and play instead of practicing and consequently a great talent was never developed. Another sad approach, and today that young woman regrets that actively participating in the performance of music is not a part of her life. 

To be sure, our philosophies of how to think when we make music differ from the happy hobbyist to the tough hided, seasoned professional musician. Since the “Good ol’ days” we have learned through educational psychology research that knowledge and skills develop more efficiently without unnecessary stress. Quite simply, learning and performing work better when we’re happy!

The Greatest Teaching and Learning Experience

Perhaps the most significant and successful learning experience of mankind is that moment when a child takes his or her first steps. In all countries, in all cultures, it goes something like this: When the parents think it might be time for those first steps one parent takes the child’s hands and the other stands about a meter in front with arms held out. The parent holding the hands lets go, the child takes one or two steps and the other parent catches the child when it falls. After the steps the parents hug and kiss the child and tell him or her how proud they are; that’s the way it’s been through thousands of years, billions of times.
It would be hard to imagine that story any other way. But what if the story went like this: The mother holds the child’s hands and the father stands in front; the child tries to take a step but instead falls down. The father then slaps the child in the face and says in a loud voice, “Stupid kid, can’t even take one step without falling down”! How might that terrible scenario have affected the life of that child?

Fortunately, its dubious if such a terrible story has ever taken place but it shows the power of positive reinforcement over negative. Teaching is a huge responsibility whether it’s as a parent, as a teacher of a student, or as being our own teacher.

Of course, the work still needs to be done, and finding our individual balance between dedication, obsession and fanaticism is strategic; it’s different from person to person and for one single person it may differ from one day to another. Wherever we may find ourselves in that balance, we will reach a higher level of performance if we enjoy our work.

Happy working.

December 28, 2006, Tokyo, Japan

Revised October 7, 2012, Tokyo, Japan