Archive for March, 2011

Crunch Time

Sometimes, it isn’t even about slow times – there is major activity in other areas of life that intrude heavily on practice schedules.  To the degree that practice is done in carefully chosen windows of discretionary time for most amateur musicians, it stands to reason that any other than a minor schedule deviation is going to impact practice.  This has been my experience.  While I can choose to focus on an “extra” activity for dedicated practice, I can’t really do that with two.  Life is about choices, and with time as the most precious commodity, we have to choose our battles.  As you know, i’ve chosen music to fill that spot, but sometimes other things demand attention.

On occasion, though, despite our best plans to be focused  on our craft, other issues press in.  It could be a big project at work, a significant change in personal life such as moving, graduation, loss of a loved one, caring for a sick member of your household, etc.  All of these things are good and necessary.  There will even be choices to take a special class or volunteer to help a church or community organization that ultimately affect our practice.  Avoiding this is not practical.  We need to accept and fulfill our obligations and the other commitments that make us complete and successful.

I find that during a crunch time, my practice volume will drop roughly in half (particularly if my weekend is impacted).  It feels so short!  I also find that it is a good time to consolidate around developing pieces and technique.  It takes a lot of effort and attention to work on difficult new music.  When I know that the crunch is of a short duration, I can shift the workload onto refining things that are already in my fingers with less effort than sorting out new technical difficulties with a piece.  When I am most heavily loaded, focusing on scales and other technical studies works well for me. By shifting to more technical things, it requires less of my total involvement to practice, and it is strangely therapeutic to do deep practice on something as simple as a scale.

The other thing that I keep in mind is that the situation is temporary.  I have not altered my goals, my commitment, or my ability to progress.  I don’t have to be hard on myself for flexing with life.  Generally, I won’t flex unless there is no other way, but life does have times where there is “no other way”.  At that point, I don’t need or want to fight.  It is best to preserve energy, complete what must be done to get out of crunch time, and then resume the normal flow of practicing.

One of the interesting things about having overworked severely (to the point of falling ill) on a few occasions, is that I’ve discovered what my physical limits are.  Our bodies are not infinite.  Even when healthy, I can only work so hard. That level may be higher or lower than someone else, but it is what I am legitimately capable of.  Assuming that you too know what the real and sustainable limits of your own body, it becomes possible to adjust during crunch times. I want  to move forward as quickly as I am able.  I try to organize my life so that it is in a good place for maximum progress, but when I have to make adjustments for a few days or a week, then I can only do what I can do.  Knowing those limits enables me to understand what maximum progress means during a crunch week.  Of course I would like to be doing more and progressing more rapidly, but self-management from “what is” is more effective than beating yourself up over some ideal that is not possible at the present time.  When you need to deviate from your normal routine for several days or a week, don’t be too hard on yourself, but do what you can and then just pick back up when the crunch is over.

Slow Days

Not every day is going to scratch the top of the deliberate practice mountain.  Not every day can be a maximum volume day, no matter how lofty the goals.  Everyone is going to have days that just don’t go according to plan, when sleep, work, family, or even one’s own need to rest simply must take priority.  This is far from a bad thing when the road is long.  Even within a practice session, we can’t just play as fast and loud as possible for the whole time – our bodies aren’t made for that.  We must pace ourselves not only within a practice session, but across the week, and even longer intervals.  So what does a slow day look and feel like?

For me, a slow day is different than just being tired, though sometimes that is involved.  Often a slow day follows meeting and exceeding my practice goals for the week.  There is a satisfaction in knowing that the work is complete, and done well.  I work diligently and purposefully during much of the week, particularly the weekend when I can put music in the best parts of my day.  But the end of my practice week is often different.   It is a chance to reflect on what worked and didn’t work, and to simply enjoy the week’s progress.  When you are doing the work on a daily basis, progress is inevitable, and a slow day is a chance to find out where that progress has taken you.  Practically, I use less structure in my practice time – I may spend longer on scales to really investigate where things stand, or to review older material.  I also concentrate on trying pieces at their full length at a comfortable tempo, or experiment with a much higher tempo that I can’t play cleanly.  It is part of understanding where I am, and what I need to do next.

It may seem counterintuitive that a slow day may have unusually fast playing, but it is important to realize that I don’t push for the speed – I just lightly execute and see what crops up.  Sometimes I am surprised at being able to play substantially faster than I have been practicing, and I lock in a whole new level with light practice.  I also find out where the problems lurk.  I don’t solve them on the slow day – I note them for specific work in the upcoming week.  This is survey work, not rigorous and meticulous practice.  It is part of setting up the next week.

Another reason for slow days are those days when the “inner artist” (see Julia Cameron’s excellent book The Artist’s Way) just needs a break.  If you are putting your best self into your art, it takes something from you in more ways than just physical.  There is emotional and spiritual energy invested in your playing, dreaming, and working.  Just as bodies need rest and rejuvenation, our souls and spirits need to be lifted up, rested, and encouraged for the next push.  A slow day with reduced practice volume is the perfect time to do something that speaks to you: watch a movie, listen to a masterwork, paint a picture, or read a book.  Even if there is a way to conduct a forced march to some kind of technical achievement, who would want to play mechanically well on an empty emotional tank?  The goal is to make art that move the soul and spirit, not to be a mechanical reproduction.  Planned slow days are part of this process.

Slow days are good for reflection on what you are studying and why – to ask questions about what comes next and how the pieces you are working on move you closer.  When you are carrying substantial practice volume, you will be working pieces out of the new category and into the development category rather rapidly, so every week offers a chance to add a new piece or two to the mix.  Which ones?  Why?  Hard ones to sink one’s teeth into?  or perhaps easier pieces that can quickly be added to repertoire and offer the satisfaction of rapid progress?  Slow days are a good time to put some new music on the desk and explore the themes – is it worth spending hours with, or not?  This kind of reflection works to build a balanced practice schedule with pieces at several difficulty and commitment levels.  Having some pieces that will take a month or longer to bring to performance must be mixed with pieces that can be learned and polished in a week.  Being able to see progress is a great encouragement, and can be part of every week.  Slow days help me keep that vibrancy by letting me explore things that I might or might not add to the practice regimen.  It can be tremendously freeing to work through some material with the freedom to not practice any of it!  It makes committing to the serious practice of a new piece more special when you have made a considered choice between several pieces.

My week includes slow time.  I need time to rest and recuperate, to think and plan.  I set my weekly practice goals so that I can enjoy a slow day along the way.  I’ll often cut my practice volume by 1/3 or 1/2 on a slow day.  I have this luxury because there are other days that I make it happen – often many days in a row.  Taking a needed or well-deserved slow day is the grease that lubricates the gears.

It Won’t Be a Surprise

When television stations do “human interest” stories, producers love a good “surprise success” story. Something about watching someone who has just won the lottery, or a new car seems to be very good for ratings. But there is nothing strange about this – people love to see other people succeed. The Olympics are popular for this reason, too. It seems that in human psychology, some people make little distinction between a lottery winner and an Olympic athlete – both get their day of fame. In reality though, some activities – like the lottery have a large surprise element. When the odds are tens of millions to one against you, no one expects to win every time they buy a ticket. The winners are genuinely surprised.

The podium at an Olympic event is not like this. No one there is surprised to be competing. They have all prepared for most of their lives to be there, and plan on winning. Of course there are things outside their control, and yes, they have given an abnormally good performance, but there isn’t much surprise that they are in the Olympics – there was too much effort and expectation put in over too long a time to register surprise.
Climbing the mountain of musical ability is much more like the Olympics than the lottery. When you are finally able to play all the pieces you want to play and they sound the way you wanted, it won’t be a surprise. There is too much preparation involved. When you work every day for years towards a goal, the surprise is more one of realization that you have more or less “arrived”, mixed with the knowledge of how much more you want to accomplish.

The flip side of this is that if you find yourself “surprised” at how well or poorly a performance goes, it is a good sign that preparations have been inadequate. Full preparation involves getting to the point where it would be surprising to make a big mistake, rather than that it would be surprising to do well. The goal is to have our expectations accurately reflect in our results because of the thoroughness of our preparations. In our planning to succeed, in our practice, and in our performance, there should be an underlying intentionality that informs all that we do. When we intentionally remove the flubs, pauses, and interpretive flaws in our playing, we remove surprises for our listeners and ourselves. Ultimately, strong performances are not a surprise to the performer, but are carefully and thoughtfully created over months and years of effort.

Whether it is a performance, a level of achievement, or some other musical goal, plan and work to a level of intentionality whereby you will not be surprised when you play well and smoothly. Proper preparation, and careful consideration of how to eliminate mistakes will remove uncertainty and provide both mental and physical re-assurance that you can deliver excellence repeatedly.

Spot Checks

Once a practice has whittled down the technical problems, the tempo is right, and interpretive details are falling into place, it is time to start readying the piece for performance.  Gerald Klickstein’s 4th chapter in The Musician’s Way has a lot of good tips on how to memorize and involve multiple types of memory. As you go through this process, it becomes necessary to evaluate how ready the piece is performance.

I use a little drill called “Spot Checks” to test myself.  The essence of this is to without any preparation (other than perhaps setting a metronome) just start into a piece and play it all the way through – repeats and all.  The trick is not to start over again, stop or pause, but to continue, just like it was a real performance.  My goal is to evaluate my performance without pre-playing the piece, or using the sheet music, but trying to simulate having to just start something and play all the way through.  I will often do this outside of my practice times so that it is more like someone said, “Hey, will you play us something?”.  Any spots that are not secure tend to show up using this method.  Very often what is secure with the sheet music may not be with memory, and vice-versa.  The “Spot Check” sorts this out.     In my experience, places that seem secure in regular practice with a metronome and the music suddenly aren’t when performed by memory alone.

If “spot checks” are showing problems, then the piece is not yet secure for a performance, and it is obvious where to work.  As sections are memorized, it is useful to use this technique to place sections in random order and test the ability to recall a section.  Sections can be linked together in this fashion as well.  Using a recorder provides another window into the spot check process.  The key is to simulate a performance as much as possible, not stopping and restarting repeatedly.  Use musically complete thoughts for your spot checks and ultimately the whole piece.  Once spot checks have substantial consistency and are at the level you desire, it is time to start performing the piece for family and friends to isolate any other issues prior to putting the piece into your official repertoire.

Setting and Achieving Practice Goals

In previous posts, we’ve looked at how much effort it takes to excel, and at the need to develop our own map on how to get from where we are to where we want to be.  Ultimately, everyone has to make their own practice schedule, but I’ve found a couple of ideas useful.

1. Start with an annual practice goal – We know that it is going to be a multi-year effort to “get good”, so thinking in terms of yearly progress can be quite helpful.  Here is a little table on how many years it takes to get to 10,000 hours:

If you know that you are targeting an overall goal of 10,000 or more hours of practice, it can be sobering to realize just how long it is going to take to get to the final destination.

2. Determine a sustainable weekly practice volume.  For me, a week is short enough that I can generally forsee problem spots in my schedule and plan accordingly.  On optimal days, I can do two 90 minute sessions and still keep work and the rest of my life happening.  You may be able/willing to do more or less.  But if I have to travel, or commute to a customer meeting, then I may only get in one 90 minute session on that day.   Here’s an expanded view of the last chart to show how daily volume adds up to weekly and yearly volume.  The chart assumes 6 days of practice 50 weeks a year.

Looking at this chart, there are several things to keep in mind:

  • A practice volume of under 2 hours a day makes it very hard to achieve the higher levels of accomplishment.  This isn’t to say that there isn’t a whole world of great music to explore below this level, because there is.  It is possible to thoroughly enjoy oneself at every level of achievement.  This statement isn’t about the limitations of less practice for an average adult as much as it is a fact to be reckoned with for those few who truly desire to play at an expert level.
  • There is a lower bound of effectiveness for forward progress.  You can see our previous discussion on that here.
  • It is pretty much impossible to practice effectively for much more than 4.5 or maybe 5 hours a day.  See previous article here. Conservatory students don’t practice more than this.  They may have many other hours playing in ensembles or in musical classes, but there is a real limit to how much and how hard you can work  without flat-lining from a progress perspective.
  • The serious student looking to achieve a substantial mastery of the instrument will want to target 2.5-4 hours per day of practice volume.  A decade will see substantial progress toward the goal, and significant musical accomplishment every week.

3. Missing practice sessions bites into the total very quickly.  If my goal is to get 18 hours a week, and I miss two 90 minute sessions, suddenly I have 15 hours for the week.  If I miss two 90 minute sessions and one whole day, then I am down to 12 hours.   My weeks are busy enough that it isn’t really possible to make up 6 additional hours in the following week, so I could easily miss my goal by a wide mark (600 hours a year vs. 900 planned)!  It is not an exaggeration to say that every practice session counts!  The same idea holds true at every level of desired practice volume.  When you are playing a game that favors consistency, then missing sessions is costly. This is why it is so important to choose a sustainable volume target.  If you set it based on some desired schedule instead of a realistic schedule, you will find that your week has to run perfectly to accomplish your goals.  My schedule demands fluctuate throughout a week, so I cannot count on perfect scheduling.  I’ve found that I have to plan each week carefully to make sure I can get in all the sessions I am counting on to reach my goals.

3. Break down the desired daily volume into chunks that fit your schedule.    For example, if you want to have three hours of daily volume, then this could be: 2x 90 min sessions, 3 x 60 min sessions, or even 6x 30 min sessions.  The trick is to create atomic units that you can slot into your day, and then identify those slots!  If you can get in 30 minutes before dinner and 30 minutes after dinner, then you have carved out 1 hour of practice.  If getting up early gives you an extra 60 minutes, then you can secure two hours of daily practice.  For me, I want to average 3 hours per day, but some days I will only get 90 minutes.  So, I created 90 minute chunks and 60 minute chunks to fil in on the weekend.  I have found that for me, four hours of practice pushes what I am capable of at the present time, so the most I need to plan for is 2×90 min sessions + 1×60 min session.

Once you have a target, then you can plan how to use each chunk of time.

4. Define the time allotment for each chunk.  I have personally adopted the rough outline suggested by Gerald Klickstein in The Musician’s Way.  This is not the only way, but I had no need to re-invent the wheel. As my needs change, I expect to alter the balance of how time is spent.  Here’s a sample of my current 90-minute workout:

New Material (35 Minutes)

Developing Material (20 minutes)

Performance Material (alternates with Developing material morning and evening)

Technical Studies (15 minutes)

Scales (3 x 5 min each)

Musicianship (20 minutes)

Sightreading (10 minutes)

Ear Training (10 minutes)

The larger chunks I further subdivide into 5-10 minute intervals.  I find this is enough to work on a phrase, cadence, or other complete musical thought.  If I am learning a new 2-pt Invention by Bach, I might practice hands-separately for 5 min on the first theme in each hand, and then move to another piece and play the 2nd cadence for 10 minutes, and then work on the ending to a piece for 10 minutes, and so on. This lets me work effectively on multiple pieces at once, and move forward on all of them every session.

Looking at my notes from this morning, here’s how this played out:

New Material (35 Minutes)

Bach Inv. #1 measure 1-10 @ mm 126=8th note – no mistakes (10 Min)

Bach Inv #1 measure 10-19 @ mm 108=8th note – clean from here to end of piece (10 min)

Bach Inv #1 2nd cadence @ mm 120=8th note – still slight gap in LH (15 min)

Developing Material (20 minutes)

Schumann The Merry Farmer @ mm=92 (performance tempo) clean except meas 4.  whole piece safe at 80bpm (10 min)

Bach Invention #2 1st Theme, hands separate (10 min – 5 min each hand)

Performance Material (alternates with Developing material)

Technical Studies (15 minutes)

Emin harmonic scale – HS @ 80bpm, HT @ 72 bpm 2, 3, 4 octave pattern

Amin harmonic scale – HS @88 bpm, HT @ 72 bpm 2, 3, 4 octave pattern

Gmaj scale – HS @ 80 bpm, HT @72 bpm 2,3,4 octave pattern

Musicianship (20 minutes)

Sight-reading (10 minutes) – 4-part reading from hymn book

Ear Training (10 minutes) 3rds asceding/descending randomly: 17/20, 4ths & 5ths:  17/20, 19/20

5. Take detailed notes.  If you quickly jot down exactly what tempo and work you accomplished in each 5-10 minute micro-session, then you know exactly where to pick up the next time you practice that piece or technical study.  This is illustrated in the above example.  It is easy for me to glance at these notes in my notebook and know that in Bach’s Invention #1, I have to bring measure 10-19 up to the tempo that I have the rest of piece at – it is the weakest spot. I should allocate more time to this in my next practice, and less to a part that is more secure.  You can flex as needed to put attention on the parts that need it.

For example, I am also working on the C-major scale this 2 week period, but it didn’t make my morning practice – I only have 3 x 5minute intervals.  So in the evening session, I will trade out the Gmaj scale for Cmaj.  I repeat the minor scales because they are newer to me, and so they get 2x the practice right now.

5. Practice with a timer.  You need to keep on track.  It doesn’t help to make a plan and then spend half your time playing scales, or the beginning of one song. Breaking everything down into 5-10 minute chunks allows you to maintain complete focus for the duration of the exercise or practice goal.  It also helps if you get interrupted.  Rather than write off the whole session, you know exactly what you need to do to finish the workout.  I set the timer when I am ready to begin, and then stop when it finishes, resetting it for each 5-10 minute micro-session.  By using the timer on my smartphone, I have a workflow that easily travels.  Of course, a cheap digital kitchen timer would work just as well.  Once in the groove, I know that I am getting in a full workout towards my goals, and I don’t have to think about anything except executing the plan.  This is freeing, and lets me know that I don’t have to think about practicing all day – I just have to do my short 5-10 minute sections that add up into 60 or 90 minute workouts, and then get my workouts in during the windows I have them scheduled in the week.

Your practice map will likely look a lot different than mine.  I’ve helped my children make 25, 45 and 50 minute “workouts” for their studies in drawing and painting.  They determine the breakout of time, and move the micro-sessions around as they need to.  Using the above example, you can make a map to get from where you are to where you want to be.  Consult your teacher if you are not sure about the amount of practice volume needed to reach a particular musical goal.  If you only need 2,000 hours to reach your goal, then you can plan out the right path that fits that volume goal.  Many musicians are happily playing in bands after a few hundred hours of work, so this shouldn’t be seen as only for the very advanced student.

On the other hand, if you are, or intend to become an advanced musician, then the ideas we’ve just explored will connect the dots between desired outcomes and practical concerns.

Practicing on the Road – Coda

The reality is that even a grueling travel schedule can be redeemed for music making.  Mental practice is demanding, but yields rich and real results back at the instrument.  It turns out that an inability to hear or sing the piece does affect it’s playability and expression.  Complex finger and hand coordination issues can be worked out in slow motion in one’s mind.  The sound of your instrument can be recalled inside the mind with perfect tone, pitch, and timbre. It is possible to work with a metronome and discover where one’s conception of the music isn’t keeping pace with the tempo.  I have found that that these are the same places that my fingers stumble, and that fixing it in my mind fixes it in my fingers.

Best of all, airplanes can be transformed into an excellent practice studio.  If you don’t have work to accomplish in-flight, this often makes mid-day practice a reality – a dream situation for the dedicated amateur who normally gives the most mentally alert part of the day to other work.  In the air, distractions can be virtually eliminated, and a couple scores fit effortlessly into any carry on.  Ear training, metronome, and virtual instrument apps on a smart phone or laptop let you keep working, even offering pitch references to start pieces in your mind.


A Prayer for Japan

When horrific events such as recent ones in Japan occur, beauty is one of the only remedies for the human soul.  In this respect, quality matters greatly, and only nature or the finest human art can carry the burden.  When we are weighed down with loss, pain, and sorrow, our souls only respond to material that carries the same gravitas and meaning.  This is not the realm of the 3 minute pop song, but demands the heights of musical expression.  To that end, I submit Bach’s Bmin Mass, considered by some as the finest musical work in all of Western civilization.  Below is the Kyrie Eleison – or translated from the Latin: “Lord Have Mercy” – which is the only prayer that seems to make any sense at all for Japan at this time.  Listening to this moves me deeply at this time.  May God have mercy on Japan and its people.


Practicing on the Road – Fugue

After a year at home, I had become used to practicing always and only on my classical guitar.  Then, to help our company grow faster, I was asked if I would travel again.  Since I don’t support myself from practicing music, this was a necessary decision.  But while I had originally switched to the guitar to facilitate musical progress while traveling, I had gotten distracted from music  with a short film project and then some photography work.  The timing of my return to nationwide travel coincided with deep reflection on my part and a desire to return to piano studies.

I had ascertained that the dexterity gained from my guitar practice translated more or less directly to the piano.  My scales, and digital dexterity on the piano had become essentially identical from my cross-training!  Though I am right-handed, my left hand was actually more dextrous than my right.  I had also noticed that I was sight-reading with new facility, and ready to work on pieces that were harder than the guitar music I had been working on.  Yet, schedule-wise, I was in a bind.  How was I  to reconcile 2-4 days of travel a week with the desire to accumulate 16-20 hours of weekly practice on the piano?

Realistically, taking the guitar again was not a good option.  Having solved the essential dexterity issues for finger independence, I saw further cross-training as less effective than it had been before.  Access to pianos in hotels, is extremely spotty, and often they are locked, or located in an area that makes deliberate practice problematic (like the lobby).  Instrumentalists might similarly find that playing trumpet in a hotel room at 10pm leads rather quickly to complaints from neighbors trying to sleep!  So what should a dedicated amateur do?

First, I realized that I was going to have to get VERY intentional about practice. When at home, every practice session had to count, and I had to do things that could only be done on the instrument.  I was going to have to plan each week as its own complicated affair to get in the necessary volume.  If necessary, early mornings, Saturdays and Sundays could amount to half or three quarters of my weekly training volume.  It was realistic that many days I would not get to an instrument at all, which led to the second realization:

I was going to have to practice in my mind, a habit I knew professionals used.  A biographical sketch of Glen Gould, and re-reading  Gerald Klickstein’s excellent book brought the idea of mental practice back to the forefront.  On the weekends, I experimented with using my mind before sitting down at the piano, and immediately had strong results.  With a strong start to my ear-training already in the bag, I knew the way forward.  I decided to re-double my ear training and then practice mentally on the road, for the same duration, with the same intent, and even working through finger coordination issues in my lap or on a table. I decided that I would track this time exactly the same as time on the instrument and push forward.

To be continued…

Practicing on the Road – Prelude

So, you want to improve dramatically, but have a crazy schedule?  Join the club.  When I decided to get serious about my music, several years ago, I was traveling 5-6 days per week for my job- taking flights all over the nation.  This is not conducive to any kind of practice and way worse than what most face.  But, having used travel as an excuse for the six years previous, I was at a point where I refused to be denied.  I had determined that no matter what, I would progress.

So, despite desiring to be a pianist, I decided that I would play guitar since I could take one with me (pianos and even keyboards are not very portable for business travel).  I purchased a Steinberger electric guitar, which came in a plain black gig back.  The neck width was all wrong for classical guitar; it was electric, not acoustic, and I didn’t care for the sound of it acoustically or electrically.  Nevertheless, it fit beautifully into the overhead compartment, was rock solid for tuning stability, and virtually impervious to damage.  Breaking the fundamental rule of frequent fliers, I checked my roll-aboard every time so that I could carry my laptop and my little guitar on the plane.  I eventually figured out that if I pulled the 9V battery that powered the active pickups out, I wouldn’t get stopped at the x-ray machine for hand screening.

Every night on the road, I worked on that guitar, no matter how tired I was.  Left hand exercises, picking exercises, and right hand velocity exercises.  I worked through all the basic biomechanics issues slowly and purposefully.  I worked on my classical pieces.  It turns out the narrow neck spacing forced me to be extremely precise in my finger placement to avoid stopping notes – it was like running with weights on my ankles.  Returning to my acoustic guitar was so much easier.   On weekends, I played my classical guitar.

When I found a different job and got off the road, I had improved dramatically.  I went from barely being able to play to having real dexterity.  I got my LH finger exercises up to 80 bpm, then 100bpm, and to 120 and above in 16th notes.  I had my scales with a pick into the low 90’s in 16ths, and with my fingers to the same area.  Off and on, I did ear training with a great app on the internet.  I learned several pieces and had worked my way into the Grade 4 book from the London College of Music.

Now, it was luxurious being home most days, and the Steinberger went to the corner to collect dust.  For the next year, I worked on  my acoustic guitar and went into Grade 5 studies, a Bach piece from Grade 6, and continued making progress.  What I learned is that, “where there is a will, there is a way”, even with the nuttiest travel schedule.  No, I was not at my best.  No, the situation was far from ideal instrument wise, and yes, it was extra hassle.  But I made forward motion.  If you travel, this needs to be your bottom line goal – forward motion, and some learning or improvement every day.  It will add up.  You can proceed, even when conditions are radically sub-par.  But, I still had not learned the next level of possibilities for practicing while traveling.


to be continued….

Making Art but not for Money – Part Three

So how do we make this work practically?  For the adult amateur, reality keeps intruding – demanding attention, refusing to allow such lofty thoughts to go unchallenged.  To re-ask the question, “Can we square the circle?”  How will you chase art with your whole being and also meet your responsibilities?  Truthfully, I have no idea how you will do it.  The complications are too many, the difficulties vast, and yet, Mr. Coppola proves it is possible, as have many others (see Richard Rendleman, Wes Montgomery, etc).

Seth Godin states,

“There is no map.  No map to be a leader, no map to be an artist.  I’ve read hundreds of books about art (in all its forms) and how to do it, and not one has a clue about the map, because there isn’t one.  Here’s the truth that you have to wrestle with: the reason that art is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it.  If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.  Don’t you hate that?  I love that there’s no map.”

Refusing compromise in any area of life to give such an extravagant gift will never be the common, easy choice, so artists like Mr. Coppola that have pulled it all together deserve an extra measure of respect for the commitment, organization, and persistence that they demonstrate in making fine art as a gift on their own terms.  Every adult amateur musician has the same opportunity available – the chance to excel in multiple disciplines and to give extravagant gifts.

The question before us is simply, “How excellent will we be in our art, our relationships, our careers?”.  How much will we care? What gift is in our heart to give?  If we accept nothing but excellence in each, how would we then live?   Can we be large enough in our spirits to desire to give an extravagant gift and then pay for it with our actions?  Will we make a  map for ourselves to meet our economic, family and personal responsibilities while also making room for extravagant gifts of musical artistry? That is the high calling of being an adult amateur musician.  It is a deep invitation to care richly and deeply about all facets of life and then to manifest that care as art of the highest quality.

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