I’m always inspired after a Monday’s Zoom meeting “Conversations on the Art of Is” – with Stephen Nachmanovitch & Larry Livingston where we continue our wide-ranging discussions on music, life, and what it is to be an artist in this time. Educators, improvisers and performers share our thoughts, questions and inspirations that we are working with as we continue our creative lives.
One week’s conversation with Lisa Rich, Michael Stephens, Mann-Wen Lo, Michael Stephens, Cathy Segal-Garcia, Tom Teasley and Linda Fisher Teasley kicked off with Tom sharing his excitement about José Eduardo Gramani’s Rítmica. Then we talked about music in the schools being as important as math. Stephen mentioned that all of the first graders raised their hands when asked, “who is an artist” yet by fifth grade only one person raised his hand and everyone else pointed to that person.
Later that day I spoke with my niece who is getting a multi-disciplinary theater engineering degree at Purdue University. They do NOT have any music majors. However, they have a 300 piece marching band and 2000 people enrolled in symphonic and jazz bands and orchestras. So it goes to show you, some people DO take music as seriously as math.
It’s interesting to me that a strong engineering school has a strong music program. Engineers make stuff. They create something from nothing. Isn’t that what music is? Taking sound (virtually nothing) and creating melodies, harmonies and ensemble.
What is it that makes us start looking outside of ourselves for approval? Not getting it from our parents? Social media? Reality TV and youtube? Influencers? Status? The size of the paycheck?
I think we’ve forgotten how to feel worthy; how accept that everyone has something to offer; that we are not entitled; that it is a privilege to be alive (even though some days it feels awful); that just because you dream it does not mean you will have it; that life is NOT either or; that your life isn’t determined by a scarcity or abundance mentality; that easy is just easy—not necessarily good, and hard is a challenge—not inherently a struggle; that seeing and being seen is what matters in life.
Competition has been trumped (pun intended) by winning at all cost. It took me along time to accept that I was competitive. I was brought up seeing competition as negative. My Dad had my younger sister and me compete at EVERYTHING. It was no fun because she was angry when she lost, and I felt less than when she won. I learned that others would use the psych-out to win. That didn’t seem fair, because it wasn’t the task itself that was challenged, but the mental fortitude. Those examples of competition made me hate the concept.
I think participation trophies belittle the benefit of healthy competition—spurring on each competitor to be more skillful. It emphasizes doing something for an outside reward. If everyone gets a trophy you can still tell who is better by who has the bigger shinier one.
There will always be people better and worse than you. Today it seems that too many people gloat at being better than or feel victimized when they are worse than. I remember playing softball one day in high school gym class. I hung out with the less than athletic bunch. We were always on a team together, and they didn’t care about winning. I remember trying to get them to care about just getting the bat on the ball or just reaching toward the fly ball when in the outfield.
It wasn’t until I realized that being curious about all that life can offer and saying “me too” is being competitive with oneself, that I finally accepted I was competitive. I used competition as bar to jump over. If I could play a scale at 120, I wanted to get it to 132. If I heard someone play a passage in a sonata faster than me, I wanted to do that too! I practiced singing and playing at the same time. I had 3 timbres: flute along, singing along, and flute & singing together. When I heard some African drummers in Adam Rudolf’s “Go Orchestra” create these cool grooves with ingressive singing, I thought that would be cool to do with my flute. Now I have four timbres to play with. Later I thought, if I could sing and play, why can’t I speak and play? Want to hear how that turned out? Listen to my introduction to Piazzola’s Tango: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rg6QGduTyk
So I say be competitive with yourself. Enjoy doing something each day, however small, that you didn’t do the day before. Some of my little wins are doing five minutes of exercise, not eating all the food on my plate just because it’s there, brushing my teeth for the full two minutes, holding a long tone a second longer, editing a blog post or even posting it!