…and by play, I mean “do your thing”. I know this blog is read by all kinds of people who have nothing to do with cello: members of the military, lindy hoppers, business owners, retired folks (whose schedules are now more crammed than they were pre-retirement).

In terms of answering this, I teeter between the Pema Chödron mindset of non-attachment, staying in the present moment and being ok with wherever you are in life and the more emotional, westernized school of thought where the primary competition is within yourself…

…and you end up beating the hell out of everyone else if you’re consistently disciplined and aggressive in your practice.

Really, it’s just two sides of the same coin. I define beating the hell out of everyone else as living well. Being happy. Setting your own goals and reaching them. I beat the hell out of everyone else when I was hired to teach at a community college. It was my victory because it was an outlet for the desire to teach non music majors. I have no desire to teach at Peabody or Juilliard- not because they’re not great, because they are. I want to teach music to people who are not already inclined to love it. I like the hard sell. That is where my evangelism is most potent, so that is the environment I seek. From the outside, it might have looked like the meagre shadow of success, but I know better.

Alas, I digress.

This morning, I saw a story on SportsCenter featuring Thomas Robinson, a player for the Kansas Jayhawks.




It reminds me to the vigilant against certain bourgeois and self-indulgent tendencies of the music world. You know, the practice room temper-tantrum where you consider quitting because a note vexes you. The list of excuses for not doing one thing or another. The frailty of allowing a setback to derail you. The moaning about how things are not ideal and wading knee-deep in self doubt.

I know these tendencies well because I fight against them every day, winning only part of the time. I use tendencies found in musicians as an example, but their analogues are easy to identify in every life. What a load of horsesh*t. (a technical term)

It was good to start my day with this story. I am reminded of the people I love, and those I’ve lost. My heart could burst; because though I can easily devote my efforts to them, there’s no escaping reality: they’re the ones who actually carry me.




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5 Responses

  1. What do I play for?

    1. For self-fulfillment & To keep myself sane/happy
    2. Because of all the amazing bands and players who have come before me & deeply changed/affected my life with their music.
    3. The knowledge that even if I never heard about it, I will deeply affect other peoples’ lives with my music
    4. Because every time somebody tells me that “I really made their day”, or that what I’m playing is really beautiful, I know I’ve put a little bit of good into the world.
    5. Because playing is when I feel most alive.

  2. Like Mike, it makes me feel most alive. And because of that I want to give other people the chance to experience that too, by infecting as many as I can with the music bug. And in performance I want to make my audience feel, and to give them an experience that will make them feel alive.

  3. I play and write because it allows me to say things that don’t come out well with words.

    The best parallel between music and sports I ever ran into was this:

    “Every goalie has a system, and Plante perfected Parent’s, both physically and mentally: Stay square to the shooter. Cut off the angles. Visualize yourself making saves in every situation — two-on-ones, power plays, penalty shots.”

    Mental practice. It works in sports as well as in music — never let yourself be surprised. Continue to play even when you aren’t anywhere near your equipment.

    Of course, in sports, half of the people out there are trying to kill you, so it’s not quite the same as music. In music, only the audience is your enemy. 🙂

  4. I never asked myself why. I don’t KNOW why. It probably doesn’t matter why one does what one does, it probably only matters THAT one does it.
    Howzat for clear as mud?

  5. I have been playing about 10 years now. I took up the instrument at 48, knowing that I would never be really good – as I define it. Meaning, to be able to play the repertoire I really want to play. However, I try to see it that, although I may not be good in absolute terms – the performance objective above – I can improve. So I can get better, relative to how I was last week/month/year. The problem is working full time and thus only having limited practice time, and thus, by the time I rack up the magical 10,000 hours, I’ll be a senior citizen!

    As you can infer from this, my relationship with the instrument is not an entirely happy one. Frustration is never far away and satisfaction is infrequent. It’s a bit like Macbeth’s line; “I am in blood stepped so far, to go back were as tedious as go o’er” (or words to that effect). However, dealing with (and sometimes just outlasting) the frustration has been character building. I have a great teacher who has other adult pupils, and who is very good at picking repertoire that I will find reasonably interesting, and challenging enough to bring me along technically. And I can see that I’m getting better.

    So why do I play? I need an outlet like this in my life. It’s necessary for me to believe that I can, one day, play in the Schubert C major Quintet. Learning this instrument is really like having a relationship with a person. Sometimes they give you the irrits, sometimes you can’t get enough of them. However, it’s really yourself that you’re getting to grips with.

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