Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Monday, July 05, 2010
This morning I was catching up on reading the odds and ends that had accumulated in my inbox over the holiday weekend when I came upon this poem posted on Chris Guillebeau's blog the Art of NonConformity Cavafy's verses have been favorites of mine ever since my mentor, Dan Bredeman, shared them with me years ago at a time when my impatience with life was limiting my progress.
Searching for Ithaca
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
-Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)
Saturday, July 03, 2010
forgotten about. The message would be profound on its own, but it is all
the more remarkable coming from a member of the deaf community. Oh, and by
the way, the performances are absolutely stunning.
Friday, July 02, 2010
For several weeks I have been resolving to get back into my writing routine with more or less regular postings. With the July 4 weekend and the official onset of summer, I am without excuse so here I am with humble “I’m back message.” It has been a wild and wooly year so far, with the release of the Garden Music CD, some exciting collaborative projects with new partners that took me in new directions, and some great playing and teaching opportunities in various parts of the country. I must express my deepest thanks to those of you who are so kind to say that you read these entries and find them useful or at least entertaining. The new academic year promises to be exciting with performances of Schumann (both in recital and with orchestra) and some lesser known chamber music by Janacek, Magnard, Weill and others. So wherever you find yourself this weekend, keep listening and savor the juicy moments that make life worth living.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
This poor blog has been scandalously neglected over the past few weeks as I have been pouring my energy and attention into some very satisfying performance projects. However, this evening I have come to a spot in the calendar where I am not performing again for a few weeks. With this pause in my routine I have opportunity to assess where I am, what I have accomplished, and what I truly want to do next.
Every so often my life seems to come to one of these moments that I describe as punctuation marks; where there seems to be an actual or a metaphorical corner to turn, where it seems obvious that I am moving from one season to another, or that my energy is shifting from one focus to another. While it is certainly tempting to overdramatize these moments, there are certainly occasions when my circumstances serve to remind me that the most serious limitations upon my life and work are my own thoughts, attitudes and beliefs. Today I am encouraging myself to raise my eyes a little higher on the horizon, to see out a little farther, and to imagine bigger things.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
This afternoon I rehearsed with a singer who has been a friend of mine for a long time, but we have never performed together before, at least that I can remember. We are putting a concert together in a few days that we will perform as part of a festival where we are both adjudicating and coaching. Sometimes first rehearsals are erribly unsettling for me as I need to figure out how people work and think about things, but today it was such a treat to simply make music together. While we had both performed most of the music chosen for the program on other occasions with other partners, it was surprising to me how little explanation was necessary. We simply checked tempi a few times and then the music happened almost without effort. There are precious few fringe benefits that come with aging, but for musicians, a few decades of accumulated experience can go a long way. Today, I simply savored the privilege of making great music in collaboration with a good friend.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
This week I delivered a new recording to the manufacturer for replication. My CD release event is scheduled for May 9 in San Diego, and if all goes according to plan I will have a product ready to distribute by then. All told this particular process has been a little more intense than some of my prior projects because I have imposed some more stringent deadlines on myself to produce the recording quickly. All told, from conception to completion the recording took about a month to complete, and by the time it shipped I felt absolutely drained.
Recently, it was pointed out to me that I tend to work in spurts of manic productivity followed by lulls of recovery. This sort of creative bipolar condition sounds horrible to me when I hear it described, but undeniably this is my customary pattern. Intellectually, it seems that it would be so much better to work more steadily and incrementally, with a predictable routine progressing sanely from day to day. While I hold this notion as an idealized objective, it simply has not been born out in my daily experience.
My projects consume me, in every sense of the word, leading me melt down into an inert puddle after the immediate project at hand is finished. It usually takes a few days before I fully regain consciousness, and then I start the process all over again. Well I am exaggerating a bit, but that makes for a better story. Still, I find the cyclic rhythm of my work very curious. I certainly value the idea of workman-like discipline, where regularly measured steps advance the work little by little, and that is how things typically start out for me. But then something takes over, the muse descends and then my manic side takes control leading to a frenzied episode of crazy-making energy.
Not that I am complaining. It's just curious to notice.
Today I was catching up on some reading and was startled to find that a writer I admire had posted a poem by another writer (now deceased), whom I also admire greatly. The poem had touched me very deeply when I read it for the first time more than 10 years ago. It always surprises me to learn that someone else shares my taste in anything. That even though we read the same poem in very different places, separated by long stretches of time, we both shared our deeply personal reaction to the poet's words written at yet another time and place. The poem dealt with the finite nature of existence and how we need to savor the good of life while we can. My reconnecting with the poem reminded me of how easy it is to believe the lie that our modern lives are spent in isolation. We can be tempted to think that no one outside or our own skin could ever think or feel what we do. This leads us either into the hubris of thinking our stuff is so much deeper or better than everyone else’s, or conversely that we are frauds and the outside world just hasn’t caught on yet.
Earlier today I was speaking to a group of university music students about the importance living into one’s own personal narrative—that it was a dangerous thing to attempt to make your life conform to some external pattern as if there was some map to follow. I suggested that the language we use to talk about who we are, and what we do reveals tremendous insights into what drives our behavior.
During my interactions with the class, a student in the room said he was terribly afraid of sounding “arrogant” when he talked about his musical work. He was inquiring honestly and I had to stall for a moment to collect some better wisdom before I answered him. A moment later, I explained that the difference for me was found in the motivation of our work as musicians. Are we posing to prove how good, talented or adequate we are? Or, are we motivated to serve the people who listen to our music by nudging them toward a deeper understanding of our common existence. I like to think that my best playing can open people to thoughts and emotions that they might not have otherwise. But as I tried to explain to the questioner, ultimately it’s not about me. The big idea is how the music enriches people who listen, by nudging them into thinking and feeling things that they would not otherwise know.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Earlier today I posted most of this post as a comment in response to blog written by Dan Kreider about how we are losing the ability to truly listen. Please read the original article here because it is wonderfully written and expresses some truly valuable ideas. I want to express again my appreciation for this pertinent reminder to savor the ability to listen for the blessing it truly is.Mr. Kreider’s blog also prompted me to share a personal illustration that happened to me 5 days ago, when a group of about 16 music lovers was gathered at a friend’s home. We are a collection of pianists, some professionals but most amateur practitioners, who gather once each month to play for each other and enjoy musical conversation. Our host chose to finish the performance time with a rendition of the Liszt Sonata and it was a deeply personal reading of a transcendent musical work. When George had finished playing, I was astonished to notice that the woman sitting on my right was overcome by the music to the point of tears. Another friend on my left was also visibly touched and moved by the music he had just heard. After the applause died away both of my companions confessed that they had never heard this music played “live” before and that they were overcome by the experience.
As I took this all in I was humbled to realize that while I had been “listening” to the performance after a fashion, but I had not had the deep immersion experience that these friends had just enjoyed. I expect that some days are just better than others, and there are times when we are more tuned in to deeper meanings of the music around us. Still, I think that we forfeit so much when we assume an air of entitlement or “taking it for granted” when listening to the amazing wealth of timeless music that is so readily available to us each day. I continue to be grateful for this “wake-up call” to choose to listen deeply when we have opportunity.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
After a lull in the conversation she made an amazing observation. She said, “I never realized before that we don’t have a synonym for the word “next.” We talked around the idea for a while and I concluded that she was probably correct. A quick check of some reference sources confirmed that while there are English words and expressions that loosely convey the idea of proximate order in a sequence, none carries quite the same meaning as “next.”
If Inuit peoples allegedly have so many different words to illustrate nuanced descriptions of “snow,” then why do we not have a few more words to talk the idea of “next” as our immediate focus or impending priority? For example, we don’t have a distinct word for a “next” that gives pleasure. Nor do we have a word for a “next” that makes us apprehensive. We don’t even have a word for “almost next” unless you really want to use the word “penultimate.” In my humble opinion, I think this would be a fruitful field of investigation for aspiring linguists and word mavens.
I arise today
through the strength of heaven,
light of the sun,
radiance of the moon,
splendor of fire,
speed of lightning,
swiftness of the wind,
depth of the sea,
stability of the earth,
firmness of the rock. I arise today
through God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
from the snares of the devil,
from everyone who desires me ill,
afar and near,
alone or in a multitude. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
One of the traits most frequently identified as a hallmark of successful people is the ability to focus on desired objectives long enough to achieve desired results. It is also a curious thing to notice that really creative people often have trouble with staying on task long enough to see the results they envision. For many, concentration becomes a process of trying to narrow one’s vision and closing ourselves off to outside information because we are afraid of being distracted. At its worst this manifests in obsessive adherence to repetitive practices that may have nothing to do with the results we are trying to achieve. Often disciplined focus shows up as a “no pain/no gain” approach that does not foster inspiration, and may cause far more harm than good, either in the form of physical injuries or as crises of confidence.
So how do you learn to keep your eye on the ball anyway? At first glance it would seem that staying focused is essentially a question of concentration and trying harder. As a student I often found myself frustrated with trying to measure up to the ideal of fixing my mind on a specific target without wavering. I just don’t seem to be wired that way. To the degree that I try to focus my mind on object “A,” the more objects “B” and “C” become increasingly fascinating. The odd thing is that when I stop fighting the urge to notice the items that are “not important” in the moment, often there is a bigger pattern or truth that emerges. Usually this more diffused view ends up yielding a much more valuable “big picture” concept than would have come from remaining doggedly attuned to the “micro” level details.
While developing a wholesome self-discipline is certainly an important part of becoming a grown-up, I think there are some significant flaws in the way most have learned to think about the ideas of focus and concentration. In my teaching I often ask my students to treat themselves in the same way that they would treat a wonderfully talented child. If you have spent any time with a person under that age of 8 recently, you will have an appreciation for the creative potential of curious questioning. Most of us recognize the flitting from topic to topic and the disparate combining of seemingly unconnected notions as a normal part of children’s learning. Ordinarily we tolerate the random questions and we are gentle in the way we lead kids back to the task at hand.
In contrast, if you were to honestly listen to the inner dialogue you engage in during you daily work, would you be comfortable using those same messages in conversation with another person, let alone a child you cared for deeply? While focus is certainly a tremendously valuable asset, it is much more a process than a destination. I believe that nurturing your own sense of wonder and curiosity about your daily work process is probably the most important thing you can do in the service of developing your own creative potential. As you notice yourself making room for the “bright sparkly bits” that captivate your attention in ways that threaten veer you off of your expected path, look to see if a bigger, more expansive view can actually deepen your focus on the thing you were trying to achieve in the first place.
play faster than normal, causing dangerous accidentals. The sticky pedals
make it hard to come to a stop at the end of a piece~very risky for
audiences. The accidentals have caused no deafs. Analysts see a damper on
the bass market and ask if sales can sustain. Congress is calling the
President of Yamaha to ask when they learned of the treble.
(Humor stolen from Yvonne Marie Glass without permission)
Monday, March 08, 2010
The ability to imagine a potential future that has never yet existed is a wonderful trait. I am talking about being able to “think things up” in ways that have never been tried before. Children seem to come from the womb with this capacity hard wired into their essential natures. But then all too soon something happens as most of us mature, and the world around us squelches that imaginative vision. The result is that we become much better at seeing limitations than opportunities, challenges and obstacles rather than rewards and clear pathways.
In her classic book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards explains how most adults’ artistic abilities are frozen in time at some point in elementary school. She explains that our ability to draw accurately or expressively typically stagnates at the point when our critical abilities overtake our artistic skill development. The tragedy is that along with our artistic skills, we usually begin a lifelong pattern of denigrating our inborn capacities to envision new possibilities. As I work with university students, it is tragically common to hear them say something like, “I am just not creative.”
The biggest lie of the “I’m not creative” myth is that most people are incredibly adept at imagining negative possibilities. In my experience, most of us can think of horrific scenarios that might happen if the wrong sequence of circumstances happened to befall us. Chicken Little ain’t got nothing on me, that’s for sure.
What if for just one day you made a different choice? Could we imagine it better? How else could events unfold? What if the story took a different turn? Then that would be visionary.
Creative work demands a curious balance between solitude and socialization. The nature of my work as a pianist requires that I spend significant amounts of time in a room alone with my instrument removed from human contact. During these working hours I interact with the composers whose music I am studying. They speak to me through the notes they have written and the encoded messages that they have left on the printed pages of musical scores. But this is not what most people would think of as social interaction. Rehearsing for performances has many intrinsic rewards but it can be a lonesome process at times. Then there are other days when I crave solitude, especially when my schedule has been overfilled with teaching or speaking commitments, or if I have been travelling more than I like, or if I have been pressed to attend one too many committee meetings. While I am careful to feed and acknowledge my inner hermit, I know that this cannot be my normal condition. For my work to have any significance or value it needs to be shared with others, and that requires that I connect with a larger community.
Marketing literature is filled with clichés about how each of us has a circle of personal contacts that, on average, total about 250 different people. Typically these relationships vary in their degree of intimacy, but most people can generate a surprisingly long list of acquaintances that they know in some substantive way, and who are not just names on list. Too often we fail to see the size and quality of our personal networks until we need to leverage the list in order to sell a product, to solicit help in finding a new job, or to sell their candy for our kid’s little league fundraiser. When we fail to connect with other people, we impoverish ourselves. If you are like me at all, too often we tell ourselves the lie that we are alone in the world and no one understands what we are trying to do in life. The best remedy for this tendency toward self-pitying victimhood is to get busy connecting to other people, and not just in a “hey, how are you?” kind of way. Instead, the magic formula seems to be to ask, “How can I make this person’s situation substantially better?” Or maybe not just better, but what would make things far better than they ever expected or imagined.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
So much of our everyday thinking centers upon the things we need to do each day. As an experiment, I have been intentionally thinking about how I want to be as I move through my day. Especially in the face of encounters that make me nervous or fearful, this week I am trying to adopt the following list of qualities as a series of “better choices.”
When I am at my best I choose to be. . .
· Connected, not isolated
· Visionary, not limiting possibilities
· Thriving, not withering
· Articulate, not mumbling
· Decisive, not waffling
· Focused, not distracted
· Present to reality, not in denial
· Indomitable, not succumbing
· Energized, not weary
· Poised, not wobbly
This list was generated as a set of responses to Map #3 in Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, Do More Great Work. While the formula is not magical producing instantaneous results, I have found myself manfesting more of my desired qualities as I have made a conscious effort to think about it.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
My laptop has developed an annoying idiosyncrasy in the last week. It seems to like connecting to the web via Wi-Fi in the vast majority of situations and conditions where I need it to work, that is until I try to use it from home. From time to time it simply won't connect using the Wi-Fi network at my house. My techie friends roll their eyes and then patiently roll out elegant explanations of why this is happening and then offer solutions as to how to remedy the problem. My favorite is from one of my own offspring who will remain anonymous despite my funding of his college degree in computer science, who prefaces his comments with. . ."I'm not really a hardware guy, I usually only deal with programming code." Some time later his remarks conclude with the words, "buy a new router." And of course, the arcane incantation or metaphysical rant that was spoken during the space in between these two endpoints induced a narcoleptic reaction in me that rendered me comatose and made it impossible for me to remember anything said in between. While, I know that there is a solution to my laptop's aversion to social interaction that will probably not require extensive therapy or a religious conversion, it has prompted me to think about the ways technology effects my work life.
Several months ago a friend of mine commented to me that in terms of computers, the web and other technical wonders that have emerged during our adult lives; we are immigrants while our children are native citizens. My friend and I are both older than 45, and it is still possible for us to remember a world without e-mail and cell phones. She observed that we generally enjoy using new tools, especially when they work, but we freak out a lot more intensely than they do when a gadget doesn’t work. As immigrants, we are never quite “at home” with the new technology that surrounds us. When things don’t work smoothly, our tendency is to fear that we have done something irrevocably wrong and that we will never get the misbehaving device to conform to our wishes. Whereas, younger people tend to understand that it is the nature of machines to malfunction. Most gadgets have steeper than expected learning curves, and they tend to deliver something less than nirvana that was advertised in the hype prompting their purchase. Even so we look endlessly to these new toys for deliverance from our daily grind, or at least to make some piece of it a little bit easier.
So what does this mean, really? I still have lots of friends who seem to live with a deep seated belief that technology will save us yet. They are always looking for the newest wrinkle in software innovation or the latest greatest bright shiny object. Just dip a finger into the online buzz about Apple’s new I-pad™ or Google’s Buzz™ and you can see how hungry that segment of the population is for anything that feels like innovation. It doesn’t seem to matter if the thing works or not, just let it be something new and exciting. Others in my circle have decided that they just aren’t going to try to keep up anymore. They aren’t really Luddites who are ready to go back to the horse and buggy, but they have seen the pace of change and have decided they have done all they are going to do.
Me, I am somewhere in the middle—I do send text messages (albeit slowly), I use social media periodically, but then I refuse to pay the access fees for an i-phone™. Two years ago my PDA stopped syncing to my laptop and I decided to return to paper-based systems for many of my planning processes because I simply judged the personal costs of transitioning to something unknown as too high. My son tells me that the video game industry is just aching to capture the folks in my demographic group who have not yet bought into this realm of personal entertainment. While my kids’ exploits on Playstation™ have never had much appeal to me, I hear some of my friends talking about how much they enjoy using Wii-fit™ programs, and Amazon’s Kindle™ e-book reader has started to gain some traction with some of us. So yes, I am an immigrant and not a native. The tech stuff matters to me and my work demands that I use it effectively, but from time to time there are these odd barriers to access that simply baffle those of us who were not born into this world. And yes, I need to go buy a new router.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
One of my pet theories that I think applies with equal veracity to both music and life is that mastery of anything worth doing excellently starts with clear thinking. It is only after I study a passage long enough to understand how it really works that I can make it sound easy. I may be able to read the music accurately and push down the proper keys in the correct sequence, but if I misread the essential design or form of a musical gesture, the results will usually sound awkward and clunky. Often my first understanding of a thing is superficial and distorted because some small detail has captured my attention inappropriately, and then I miss the big picture. Curiously, my first readings of things tend to be unnecessarily complex when underneath there is a simpler idea that is far easier to think and bring to life. I am coming to understand that cultivating this clarity of mind is the real work both in the music I play and in living life.
Incidentally, Project Gutenburg offers a free download version of Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians. This .pdf is a beautiful reproduction and includes the complete text in both German and in English translation. You can download it here.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Spring sprung at least a little today in San Diego. My wife and kids were home from school for the President’s day holiday, and the warm sunny day made it a struggle to work much. My work day has been punctuated by brief but intense episodes of training my mind and hands to navigate the vagaries of the Chopin preludes that I will be performing soon. These periods are interspersed with communications to colleagues across the country about upcoming projects, reading books and articles that catch my attention and then an occasional household errand. The bass rumbles from my son’s music two rooms away provide the accompaniment for my writing tonight. He seems to think that loud music of a contemporary urban extraction helps him study more effectively. Hmm, I don’t know what life is like for other practicing musicians, I only know the oddly textured surface of my own dappled experience. Still, elements that used to seem chaotic or disparate in my life years ago now seem normal, and I now choose to laugh at the odd juxtapositions of sounds and enthusiasms that float through our house at any given moment.
Focus and concentration seem to mean something different for me than for other people. These days my life seems to be composed of dozens of little twenty-minute cells, wherein I am totally absorbed in a given task, only to have myself shift to something completely different when I shift into the next cell. So I spend my days, changing mindsets and wandering around. Experts tell me that this is due to an “associative” rather than a “linear” thinking style. For a long time, I was absolutely convinced that it was a symptom of dysfunction and I tried to learn to make myself follow more “logical” paths through projects. The effort was doomed from the outset. It felt like I was running a race in someone else’s well-worn shoes, and I had the blisters to prove it.
I laugh about this now because I once recognized this same trait in my Grandfather years ago. He was a woodworker, a gardener and he had his hands into lots of other things all at once. His habit was to spend his days puttering here and there all day long, working intently on something until he came to a pausing spot where he could safely set it down. Usually, the projects would need to sit for a while as time was required for glue to set, varnish to dry, or seeds to germinate. I like to think that my way of working has some ingrained connection to a simpler, more natural way of moving from task to task than is typically understood by productivity experts. What probably looks like an attention deficit disorder to an outside observer seems perfectly normal to me by now. Throughout the day I do lots of things and even get things accomplished—just don’t try to track my progress on a flowchart.
Does anyone else think about these things? As I continue to study my own work process and learn how to help others, I would really enjoy hearing about what your patterns look and feel like. It would be great to hear from other creative folks about your experiences in this realm. Please leave comments here or send me an e-mail.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
"A month long text and audio blog about the creation of 28 new pieces of 'art music' in the twenty-eight days of February by composer & conductor Robert Ian Winstin."
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Monday, February 08, 2010
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Saturday, February 06, 2010
with a colleague in the Washington, D.C. area who was leaving her office
at midday to get home before the blizzard hit. Of course, we don't have
snow here in San Diego but the rains are back today and are falling
heavily. It is hard for people in other regions of the U.S.A. to
understand how catastrophic rain can be in southern California. So, I am
thinking of friends in blizzards as I peer out through rain covered
windows. The natural inclination is to hibernate, preferably in a warm
cozy place with good company or a good book. Productivity will best be
served another day, and today will be a mandatory break from the customary
scurry to get things done. The respite imposed will likely have benefits
that we don't readily notice. I expect that when we emerge from our
burrows once again after the sunshine returns, we will better for the
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Okay, maybe not. Still the fruit of a day's labor was lost, probably forever.
At this point my temptation to fall into despair was palpable. I could feel the tide of hopelessness rising, as one of my more obnoxious inner voices pronounced, "Well, that's it! If the work we finished yesterday is gone already, why should we sweat and struggle to create any more? You never know when stuff is going to get trashed around here, so why bother?" My calmer, more sane mind did its best to ignore the pessimistic complaining, and I tried to search the hard drive for every likely handle that might turn up a clue for the missing material. No luck, the stuff was just gone. Reluctantly I went back went back to the outline of the chapter I was writing, and by this point any inspiration that I had left had made a quick dash for the emergency exit. Nothing in my plans for the day's work sounded right. The pessimistic voice in my head returned with a vengeance, saying, "Who's idea was this anyway? This is stupid! It will never work, and by the way, this is a dumb idea for a book anyway."
The episode closed with a blank computer screen open before me, as I quietly started filling up the empty space with words. On this day I didn't allow the discouraging voice to keep me from doing at least some of the work that I had originally intended. Putting text on the page didn't silence the inner critic but I did demonstrate a resolve that I wasn't going to be deterred by a technical problem, a problem that was likely due to my own error. As I reflect back on this otherwise trivial event, it is clear that the things that keep me from making and doing the work I want are rarely big challenges. If I had listened to the voice that told me that my writing was pointless, I would have allowed a small, and routinely reccuring, mechanical failure to deter me from moving ahead on a project that matters to me. In this light, it is really amazing that human beings ever get anything done, let alone really great things.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
So why am I thinking about this today? What does this have to do with bringing forth creative work into the world? As I read writings from really smart people who know what they are talking about, there is a lot of talk about learning to savor the journey; to find joy in the process not the product, etc. I do think that learning to cultivate enthusiasm for the day to day stuff of making your work happen is really helpful, and may in fact be essential if we are to stay in the game over time. As a student I was coaching last week observed, when you start to really pay attention to the qualities of what you are bringing forth, the work takes on the nature of meditation. In optimal moments, there is an amazing sense of timelessness and ease. Then there are other days.
For me this means that most mornings, I start my workday by looking at my map. I always (or almost always) have an idea of where I want to go—a particular concert I am preparing, something I am writing, or some correspondence needing an answer yesterday—and then I plan out incremental steps that I believe will move me in my intended direction. Sometimes my map is harder to read and there are confusing details that just don’t look right. Occasionally, I make wrong turns and I need to go back to the map to get back on the desired route toward my destination. Still the process begins with a map and the words, “You are here.”
Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous
Monday, February 01, 2010
I ate lunch with my brother a few days ago. He was in Huntington Beach on a business trip and had a gap in his work schedule. Since he lives in Saint Louis and getting to Orange County was a much shorter trip, I decided to squeeze the 75-minute drive north into my plans for the day. We connected easily enough and we found a place to eat that was not far from John Wayne Airport, from where he was to depart later that afternoon. After exchanging the odd greeting rituals of two middle-aged Caucasian males (more stiff and awkward than ever), I blurted out something about not doing a good job of keeping in touch. My brother simply said that he didn’t even try any more. And then to elaborate, he told the story of one his former bosses who had told him in a similarly awkward moment, “If something is a priority, then you do it.” It seemed an odd thing for him to say in the moment. Even now, I can’t decide if should get mad about what he said, or feel defensive, or just thank the serendipity of God’s universe for using the moment to teaching me an important lesson. Today, I am choosing to check box number 3 on the survey and express my thanks for the wake-up call. There is no point to arguing with the simplicity of this thinking, of course it is true. Our best intentions and rationalizations are simply stories that buffer our egos from a reality that scares us and actually serves to keep us in a state of mild distress over that large list of other things that “we really ought to be doing.” So today, my life seems to be calling me to keep my inventory lists of commitments short, and then to actually deliver what I promise both to myself and to the people who depend upon me.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
Lara Downes is currently Artist in Residence at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at the University of California at Davis. Her latest recording is called, Dream of Me: Daydreams and night visions. She sumarizes this collection of new solo piano music with the following description:
The musical journeys you take and can’t remember in the morning. This is distinctive, timeless music by some of the best New American Romantics, including William Bolcom’s “Dream Shadows”; Aaron Kernis' richly poetic "Before Sleep and Dreams"; Adam Silverman’s “Nocturnes and Reveries” and Dan Coleman’s “Burden of Dreams”
Both the music on this CD and the performances are stunningly beautiful!
For the next week you can order Lara’s recording CD Baby and a portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Haiti earthquake relief effort. To visit to Lara’s artist page on the CD Baby web site click here
To visit to Lara’s artist page on the CD Baby web site click here
Visit Lara's web site by clicking here
For more information CD Baby's Haiti relief program click here
fanatically and religiously I have always written. The difference now is
that in at least this modest way I am actually publishing what I am
writing. A few days ago one of my mentors, Charrise McCrorey, asked me,
"So how is this writing business working for you?" It seems that whenever
we talk by phone during my weekly coaching sessions, there is always a
point in the conversation where I am completely at a loss to know what to
say. My brain just freezes and I struggle to utter even the dumbest
banalities. So after what seemed like forever, I blurted out that I was
surprised at the favorable responses I had received. What I had expected
to be a quiet little exercise to make my brain work differently than my
ordinary patterns, had begun to feed a part of me that felt pretty good.
Still, I was surprised to get these quick little messages on Facebook and
Twitter indicating that at least a few of the things were connecting and
resonating with people. To any and all of you who have taken the time to respond to these blog
entries, I say "thank you so much for your encouraging words." If you have
suggestions for where you would like me to go with these explorations,
then I would love to hear from you. My goal is to use about 100 or so of
these postings to "workshop" my way through some material that has been
germinating in the well-fertilized soil of my consciousness for a decade
or so. If I develop the stamina to persist in the process and the thick
skin to ignore criticism, then my intent is to craft the sum of the parts
into a book manuscript over the next 12-18 months. The foundation for my
work is the Performing with Poise seminars that I have conducted since the
early 1990's but the material continues to morph over time. Stay tuned and
we will see where it all leads.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Grace Nikae is an immensely talented American pianist who plays an astounding range of repertoire in a manner that simultaneously exudes mastery and nuance. I am particularly fond of her performance of the Scriabin Sonata-Fantasie in G# minor, op. 19 that opens her debut recording, entitled Fantasies. For the next two weeks you can order both of Grace’s piano recordings CD Baby and a portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Haiti earthquake relief effort.
You can learn more about Grace Nikae from her web site by clicking here You can see a video of a performance excerpt from the first movement of Brahms’ Concerto no. 1 in D minor here For more information CD Baby' s Haiti relief program click here
After I regained both consciousness and a modicum of sanity, I recognized that my students are following the same pattern that I have lived out myself over and over again. In life there is a very fine line between confidence and arrogance. And when our own talents are concerned, there is an even finer line between who we are and what we do. Our culture teaches us to fit in, to conform and to not stick out from the crowd. To make matters worse, that same culture has concluded that being a musician, or any other kind of creative artist, is just not normal. This week I have been listening to several presentations and interviews by Seth Godin as he talks about this phenomenon that he has called the “Lizard Brain.” The basic premise is that to be artists, which he loosely defines as anyone doing cool stuff that matters, we need to turn off and deny that part of our brain that resists innovation, growth and other related risky behaviors.
In my teaching I have seen this as a process that I call “raising the horizon line,” by which I mean we have to consciously cultivate bigger possibilities than we have allowed ourselves to think about before. Until now I have not understood how important this element of suppressing our internal resistance is if we are to move forward with our visions and deliver positive changes in our world. It may help to know that the Lizard Brain is really just trying to preserve the status quo to keep us safe. Still, this resistance doesn’t get us to where we want to go or inspire us to be who we want to be.
A video of a talk Seth gave in 2009 called “Quieting the Lizard Brain” is here.
Some other aspects of this notion are developed in an interview with Seth Godin by Merlin Mann on 43 Folders is here.
Seth Godin’s latest book the The Lynchpin can be found here.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Fabio Parrini has been a friend of mine for more than a dozen years or so. As a musician he is a consummate artist with an amazing capacity for both technical detail and interpretive nuance. Every time I hear him or listen to his recordings, I learn something new, about either the music he performs or how it really should be played. I especially recommend his most recent recording of the Schumann Fantasie Op. 17, which captures an absolutely visionary performance.
For the next two weeks you can order both of Fabio’s solo piano recordings CD Baby and a portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Haiti earthquake relief effort. To go to Fabio’s artist page on the CD Baby web site click here.
For more information CD Baby' s Haiti relief program click here.