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.