I'm about to share some thoughts that I consider very important. If my word on music or life is something that you tend to trust or find interesting, then I would very much like for you to read it. It's something that I have been becoming more and more aware of over the past couple of years, that I realise now has been important to me from the very beginning.
Many of us, I'm sure, are aware that fear is... negative. It's a bad place to start, a bad place to come from, a bad reason to act AND a bad reason to NOT act. One source of fear that I notice among many musicians, including myself, is the inability, unwillingness or lack of awareness of the need to forgive ourselves, especially in a high-performance environment of a music school. Any high-performing individual must have high standards, I absolutely believe this. However, the line between setting high standards and having high expectations is thin, and it is blurry.
Failing to meet our own high standards is not a 'mistake', it is a necessary step towards eventually meeting them. Failing to meet expectations, however, is generally what most people consider a 'mistake'. (I took this action, and it was SUPPOSED to have this result, but it DIDN'T – I made a mistake).
It's not that expectations are necessarily a bad thing, and I'm not saying 'there is no such thing as a mistake'. Personally, I do believe that, but there's a reason why you don't want to play a B when a composer writes a C, and it's not because you can't. The secret, though, is that we have control over our own standards, we have control over our own expectations, and though we may choose not to exercise control over what we consider a mistake, we have control over what we consider a failure.
When we make mistakes, or find ourselves in a situation that we consider a failure, we absolutely NEED to forgive ourselves. Even if a mistake is made, at least there is something to fix, and both of those events move things forward.
When I hear someone I am performing with make a mistake (either by my expectations or what I believe theirs are), I try my best to think – how do I make their mistake sound good? In order to do this effectively, I have to forgive them -immediately-, without a second thought. I also try to do this for myself – 'how do I make my mistake sound good?'. In order to do so, I have to take responsibility for what I choose to consider a mistake, but I also have to forgive myself immediately and move things forward.
If we want to play good music, we have to be ALIVE. We have to share the feeling of living, and we have to encourage it in others. It's also important that we allow others to make US feel alive. That's how, collectively and discretely, musicians literally move the WHOLE WORLD forward.
If we are not able to bring ourselves to self-forgiveness, we will feel afraid of making another mistake, and we will put pressure on ourselves to not end up in another situation that we consider a failure. This insidious form of fear paralyses us into inaction.
Inaction is literally the ANTITHESIS of living – the day that every cell in our bodies is no longer able to act, is the day that we are no longer alive. And that alone, I hope, is enough to conclude that we DO have it in us to overcome fear and to develop mindsets that will consistently set our fears to rest – and we always will. Until we are DEAD.
Now go back to the beginning and read everything I wrote one more time, but this time, ignore every reference to music. For me, at least, it still holds true. And for me, it is every situation I find myself in OUTSIDE of music in which I really have to make an effort to live by my own word, which is part of the reason I am sharing these thoughts publicly.
A few days ago I decided to write out my personal philosophy of performance. It's several pages, and it will take some time to get it right. When it's done, I'll share it with you if you want to read it. But more importantly, writing this document has had a hugely positive effect on me. In the days since I began writing it, I have been a more consistent and imaginative musician, and this has extended even to my piano playing and (gulp) singing. I haven't really explored this enough to tell you for sure that it's going to help. But you may want to give it a try, even if it's only a couple lines long. At least those two lines are something that by now you have decided, and are something that you can hold yourself accountable for.
Whether or not you believe in determinacy or fate (mostly I don't), we eventually BECOME the reason why we are here. If we do not act, it does not make a difference whether we are here or not – in which case there is no difference between us being here and not being here. I'm saying there NEEDS to be a difference, because the world needs us in order to be what it is, and we need each other in order to be what we are, and in order to achieve this, we have to EXPRESS OURSELVES.
For a long time I was confused and unsure about what this phrase meant. But let me now be very clear what I believe it means. To express yourself, is to make yourself exist. To express yourself, is to prove that you are alive. If your heart is beating, you are expressing yourself. Basically, if you DO ANYTHING, you are expressing yourself. Therefore, anytime you DO NOTHING, you are not expressing yourself, you are not making yourself exist, you are not proving that you are alive. The activity of individual cells is the minimum extent of living, but music DEMANDS the maximum extent of being alive.
If you have ever laughed at anything I've said, that's nice and I do appreciate it. But that's not why I said it. I said it because that really was what I was thinking, and there is absolutely a reason why I was thinking it. That reason is ME. And I must make myself real, because you need me to be what I am, in order to be what you are. Conversely, I need you to be what you are, in order to be what I am. In other words, please express yourself. Please make yourself real. Please make yourself exist, and prove that you are fully alive.
It's important to figure out how to do this in a way that is honest, healthy and free. The secret is that freedom is balance – but when you have, or do, very little, balance is so far away that it appears similar to excess. On the way to freedom, you may cross the line of balance into excess. You'll know when you're doing it – so you must bring yourself back to balance. And in so doing, you ACT. You choose not to succumb to the fear of NOT being free, the fear of a return to having, or doing, very little.
That balance is what allows us to all be honest, healthy, and free TOGETHER.
That's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading. Sincerely, I wish us all the best.