Just like brushing your teeth, washing your clothes, and putting gas in your car are important daily living tasks, there are other types of daily chores that are just as important to your success as a musician. I’ve put together a list of 5 things that I think are the keys to a happy, meaningful, and intentional life in music.
Trust –Being able to trust in those around you, especially your fellow musicians, is essential. However, the most important trust relationship we all have is with ourselves. Trust yourself – do what you say you are going to do. If you are going to get up at 6am to go practice, plan for it. Because, let’s face it, there are a ton of great reasons why getting up that early isn’t a good idea. For example, we all need sleep! It’s essential for our physical health as well as our mental health (and a myriad of other good reasons, like a comfy bed, it’s raining/snowing out, your partner looks so freaking comfortable! etc.). Therefore, plan your day knowing you are going to get up early the next morning and go to bed at an hour where getting up at 6am is doable. Set your alarm, and get up when it goes off knowing the hardest part is getting your feet on the floor! Once you’re up, you have now created trust by proving that you will do what you’re going to do. If you can’t trust you to follow through, why would anyone else?
Give – As musicians, this is the goal. We are storytellers. We have to give a piece of ourselves, our life, our experience, to our audience (whether that is a student, colleague, an interview panel, and audition panel, etc.). But, from where does all the giving material come? It comes from sharing the human experience. Give of yourself to your audience, colleagues, students, friends, etc. Many times the giving we do seems fruitless or futile. You offer something to an audience and it seems to go unnoticed, is misinterpreted, ignored, or even not liked. It can feel empty and a like a worthless use of precious energy. I’ve certainly felt this way before. But, the fun and amazing thing about giving is that it’s completely exclusive of someone else’s efforts or response. Giving is a gift we can share with others but also something we can give to ourselves. Don’t be selfish – share your music. Your performance depends on it. So does the universeJ.
Listen – How many times has a teacher, mentor, friend, musician said something and I did not really LISTEN to what they were saying. This happens maybe because of ego, maybe because we’re all so busy, we’re tired, focusing on other things, interpreting the information through our past experience, etc. How many times do we focus on our emotional response to the delivery rather than really digging in to the content? Sometimes the best and most meaningful messages come from an unlikely source or delivery. I recently read this quote by Leonard Bernstein, “The conductor must not only make his orchestra play - he must make them want to play. He must exalt them, lift them, start their adrenaline pouring, either by pleading or demanding or raging. But however he does it, he must make them love the music as he loves it. It is not so much a matter of imposing his will on them like a dictator; it is more like projecting his feelings around so that they reach the last man in the 2nd violin section. And when this happens - when everybody shares his feelings, when 100 men are sharing the same feelings, exactly, simultaneously, responding as one to each rise and fall of the music, to each point of arrival and departure, to when all that is happening then there is a human identity of feeling that has no equal elsewhere." When we focus on the content of a message rather than letting ego/feelings get in the way, we can learn a lot about ourselves and move forward without baggage or regret.
I had an experience that changed my life in college. I got 2nd chair in the Wind Ensemble and choose to be very upset over these results. I went and spoke to the director of the group who quietly, and calmly let me say my piece. When I finished, he asked, “are you done?” and proceeded to let me know it didn’t matter what the results were, because it was now my job to make the first horn sound great and feel comfortable to play their best. It was my job, to be the best dang 2nd horn player not only for me but also for my section and the ensemble at large. He certainly wasn’t yelling at me, but he wasn’t very happy about my attitude. I walked out of that room with my tail between my legs, but soon came to realize that night what a gift he gave me by listening and truly understanding what I needed to hear in order to grow and evolve. I am forever grateful for those uncomfortable few moments and for the fact I choose to put my ego aside and really listen to what he had to say.
Opening our ears to the world around us we may just find the answer by listening a little harder to the content.
Let go – It can be letting go of information that no longer serves you, letting go of relationships that no longer allow you to grow, moving on from a job because you stop moving forward, it could be letting go of old habits, letting go of control, lots of things. All of these are important. One of the most important skills we can possess as a musician in the ability to self-analyze. Figure out where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there. Often times, this requires letting go of old habits, ways of thought, or even control. It’s always important to evolve and part of that growth is figuring out what isn’t working for you or what is now unnecessary to hold on to, and letting it all go.
It is easy to hold on to things, people, situations, schools of thought, habits, etc., because that’s just how we’ve always functioned, known. Letting go requires us to regularly take inventory of our lives and see keep what’s working and discard the things that aren’t in order to make more room for the solutions. The scariest part can be not knowing the outcome of your letting go efforts. But, what if letting go is a part of the solution and allows you to fulfill goals and reach dreams? You’ll never know, unless you take the first step…..and let go.
Love/Celebrate – Let’s face it. Being a musician can be hard. There are a lot of things about the business that seem unfair, difficult, costly, emotionally taxing, etc. I’ve had my share of blood, sweat, and tears shed to reach where I am, too. When I was in my second year out of my DM program, I had been applying for every job that became available. I had been working several jobs, barely making ends meet for just over a year at this point. I was sitting in my teacher’s office finishing up some projects we had been working on, and another one of my favorite professors came in the room, sat down and said, you’ve looked like crap for a long time now, what's up? It’s always nice to be told the stress you’re feeling is all over your face (there’s that content thing againJ). Either way, I told him I was thinking about quitting music. He replied, “what do you plan on doing instead?” “I don’t know, something other than this,” I said. And he said the words that really changed my thinking and course. “You don’t get to quite because you’re frustrated, you quit because there is something else you’d rather do.” He was totally right. In that moment, I finally was able to see and feel the fire that I had felt for music my whole life, even though it was dim. Never the less, the fire was still there. I had buried it with, stress, frustration, exhaustion, worry. I buried it with all the things that don’t really have anything to do with WHY I wanted to be a musician. Ever since I can remember, I knew music was going to be my career. From the moment I picked up a horn, I knew this was going to be my life’s work. So why had I allowed all of these other factors drown out the light inside? Because I forgot the WHY. I love music. I love sound, I love working with my Mirari family, I love how music can change someone’s life (especially my own), I love how listening to Bruckner 8 the 4th movement, no matter how tired or busy I am, will ALWAYS make me stop what I’m doing and dance around the room, playing the timpani part, conducting, and smile from the inside out. These are the things I forgot.
Everyday, I make sure to celebrate the fact that I am doing what I love. I look at my name plate outside my office door often, and think how proud and happy I am that my love for music, no matter how long it took and arduous it was/can be, got me here. Music never lets you down. It’s ever present and always available to refill my soul with love. That love is worth celebrating.
So, go out there and work for the life you deserve. Be AWESOME today!