So last week I had a student playing rather mechanically, lacking the depth and big picture phrasing that I was hoping for. I of course went through every method of training in the book, trying to draw the much-vaunted “story” out of the music. We discussed all sorts of creative thoughts, abstract and concrete. Nothing, nada, zilch. What finally worked? I printed out a picture of a burrito. A freaking burrito. Dude was hungry, and his eyes on the prize suddenly transformed him into Pavarotti. He played a gorgeous phrase without envisioning a single unicorn. Consider me pedagogically humbled.
Basic communication is something of which everyone is capable, until we train it out of ourselves. It’s only partly a gross generalization that musicians are socially stunted, as we look at the man behind the curtain, figure out the workings, and relearn how to “properly” express emotion. I find it ironic that by doing so we often disconnect ourselves from others. Many musicians I know hold themselves apart from mainstream society, heroically labeling themselves as misfits or enlightened or enlightened misfits.
Now, as a tuba player, I have a built in failsafe. You won’t find orchestra season brochure covers with pictures of tubas and roses. The roses would be dead and wilted, and instruments that can and do crush small children aren’t really romanticized. A recent article published about the theft of tubas pointed out that the tuba isn’t a sexy instrument. WHAT??? Er, oh yeah.
For tubists, our biggest risk is the following:
What is my point, young pedagogues and performers? When trying to communicate with people, understand them, consider them, and by no means expect them to come to you. No matter how brilliant your ideas are, don't just assume they are universal; you’ll be a better musician/communicator if you prioritize rejoining the human race as a pupil rather than an instructor. I think I learned more driving a bus of drunks at 3 am (story for another time) about humans than any number of hours with a tuba in a practice room—go figure.
So keep the ivory tower, the cathedrals, the ultimate expression of human triumph, etc etc. But don’t forget the Mexican food. Even enlightened misfits have to eat.