Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Work Ethic

I constantly am preaching to my students the importance of a strong work-ethic. I can not tell you the number of incredibly gifted musicians I have seen leave the music profession, not for lack of talent, but lack of competitive drive. It is certainly not always the most talented musicians who find their artistic path in music, although talent does help greatly! Those who find success have a common theme for the most part - and that is a dedicated and sustained intensity of effort.

I have been thinking lately of how a proper work ethic needs to be applied in process, and am beginning to see how clearly that qualitative efforts are where it's at. I hear of people who practice so many hours each day, and I think 'when do you have the time if you have a life?!'

Why? I believe that to truly enjoy music and be human in your approach that there are so many things outside of music that make one a great artist (whether as performer or listener) - it's not just about technique, even if a virtuosic ability gives you a vocabulary to say what you want in sound. But more to the point, artistic growth happens as much away from the instrument as it does on it.

This means that for someone striving as a musician, or quite frankly in any endeavor, one must find a balance in an approach that allows for holistic growth, and this takes as much, if not more, mental energy as it does physical energy.

One of my teachers, Joseph Gifford, who is not a conductor, but a movement specialist (truly a guru in every sense of the word!) said a couple things that guide my approach to preparation and practice at this point:

"Every emotional expression should be done on a release, not a contraction. Do
not substitute tension for intensity. Do not confuse the two. When tension
begins to disappear, then intensity, a fullness of expression, can take place.
Tension always squeezes away fullness and the ease that comes with it."

"Do less to accomplish more. Leave behind the I, the me, the ego. Be open,
vulnerable, transparent. Come to zero -- so that the music will have it's own
voice, not yours, and will move through you with fullness and expressive

I believe what Joe is saying is that by focusing on what is important - the task in front of you and not you doing the task - you can become fully present. This means letting go of expectations and rather being passionately into the present moment, in which you can accomplish more when detached from fear. It is qualitative and intense rather than tense, quantitative, or rushed.

As I go along my own journey I am presently trying to keep my work ethic in a place that allows even grinding work to be enjoyable, not just for the result, but for the gift of being able to pursue something I love - this is especially tough in the face of conflict. However, if one can accomplish more with less, then the simple blessings that life has to offer become something we both can savor more fully, while still getting a lot done, because our focus can be truly on the things that give us joy.


Jeff Little said...

Word. Charlie Parker has a quote about how music is your thoughts, your experiences, your feelings, and "If you're not living it, it won't come out of your horn."
I've always felt that music, like all art, is basically a medium through which to communicate on a level that words can't; it's a way to express pure feelings and thoughts that are too basic to be put into words (unless you're an extremely skilled writer, and maybe not even then). So if that's the case, then the music you make is always going to be a reflection of what's in your heart and mind, and the content of your heart and mind are going to be pretty much determined by the things life has been teaching you. So how can the music you make ever be any more interesting or significant or rich than the life you lead, and the way you respond to what life presents you with? If your life consists mostly of being by yourself in a practice room, how can the music you play ever be less bland than that?

One of my favorite speakers on the subject of music is Flea, who says that all you need to make beautiful music is to have love in your heart. I think that's probably the single most important thing to remember about music, and I'm really glad that that sentiment is almost always present in the way you talk about music, too. I really think that if everyone who plays music, especially the people whose lives revolve around music in a significant way, could truly be conscious of that fact all or most of the time, we'd all be much better musicians and much more in a state of harmony with ourselves and each other. The ancient Greeks believed this; that music had a power to penetrate the soul and potentially restore it to balance. I think that's true, but only if you're in the state that you describe as being truly present, when you're not thinking about yourself and you're letting the experience of the music completely sweep you away. It's rare that I'm able to achieve that myself because my brain is always buzzing almost uncontrollably, but those moments when I manage it make all the work I do as part of my life far more than worth it.

Anonymous said...

This is a great point. Yes, I believe as an artist and a human being, it is very important to be part of the world around you. Although you must keep moving forward, it is important to move slow enough through the world to pay attention to those little things that are so important in life that we may miss such as the smile of a young child or random acts of kindness.

Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

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