Reprinted with permission from Maryland Music Educator, Spring 2018, Vol. 64, No. 3
Call them slogans, adages, mottos or whatever you want. Most people have heard a particular saying that they have taken to heart and may think of on occasion when making a decision of some kind. They find wisdom in the ideas of other people, perhaps from centuries ago. These words of wisdom may come from a philosopher, a scientist, a president or they may come from a simple, common person. The important thing is that, for some reason, the words speak to us and help us understand our lives or our situations a little better. The adages or ideas in this article are those that I’ve learned over the years and I think they have particular application to musicians.
“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.”General George Patton, U.S. Army. World War II Commander of the 3rdArmy.
As musicians, we might translate this as “The more you sweat in the practice room, the less you’ll bleed on the recital stage.” General George Patton was one of the most successful military leaders in American history. He was a strict believer in hard, rigorous training and he drove his troops mercilessly, which resulted in overwhelming victories for the American army in World War II. The above statement sums up his belief: the harder you train, the more successful your performance will be.
But it’s not just a matter of putting in long hours. You must put in productivehours. This means your practice session should always have a plan; you should begin with a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to go about it. Merely repeating technical studies day after day may offer some small improvement, but real progress only results from a thoughtful, organized session.
“We will relentlessly pursue perfection, because we will never achieve it. But along the way, we will achieve excellence.” Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers and winning coach of the first two Super Bowls.
Lombardi was a legend even during his lifetime. Like Patton, he was obsessed with hard training and discipline, and his methods resulted in victories in the first two Super Bowls. In his book Instant Replay, Packers All-Pro offensive guard Jerry Kramer wrote, “No other team trains as hard as we do; of course, no other team wins as often, either.” After their football days were over, many of his players went on to great success in other fields. They took the lessons of hard work, discipline and teamwork he had instilled in them and applied them to their post-football careers.
This quote is interesting in that it seems to speak to a different approach. In the pursuit of perfection, the emphasis may not always be on the accumulation of higher abilities, but on the elimination of simple errors. Eliminate the errors and we are as close to perfection as we can get. Talking about professional music, Philadelphia Orchestra trumpeter Seymour Rosenfeld stated, “If you can triple tongue the finale to Steiger’s Carnival of Venice, that’s great. But if you can’t play a simple quarter note figure exactly the same way a hundred times in a row, we can’t use you.” In other words, the accumulation of a high level of technique is useless if you can’t deliver a simple figure consistently over a long period of time.
“The whole world is a store and you can have anything you can reach on the shelves. But there isn’t a thing in the store that hasn’t a price set on it and whatever you take, you’ve got to pay the price.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, American author.
There is almost no expounding required for this quote. If you want to be a professional musician, there is no other way but to “pay the price.” The price is long hours in the practice room, an almost non-existent social life, working when other people are off and accepting the very real fact that there are far more musicians than there are openings for them. It means you must understand and accept that in your career, you just might hear “no” more often than you’ll hear “yes.”
“If you don’t like the music you’re playing, playing it poorly won’t help you like it any better.” Unfortunately, I don’t know who said this first, so I cannot attribute it to any one speaker.
But it is very true. In my case, the music I didn’t like was William Walton’s Balshazar’s Feast.The first time I played it in rehearsal, I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard, and I was tempted to give only minimal effort. But I didn’t - my sense of professionalism telling me to play it the best I could. And am I glad I did, because this work is now one of my all-time favorites. It just took time for me to hear the genius in it. If I’d played it poorly, I never would have learned just how great a work it is. While it may seem self-evident, always play the music to the best of your abilities. If you still don’t like it, fine, but at least it won’t be because of a lack of effort. Along the way, though, you may find you like it a lot better than you thought you would!
“What we do in life echoes through eternity.” General Maximus Meridias, in the movie Gladiator.
Don’t look for this quote in any reference or history book; it’s actually from a movie starring actor Russell Crowe. It is heard near the beginning of the film when Crowe’s character, General Maximus, is addressing the Roman troops just before a major battle.
We don’t find great wisdom just in the history books; we find it in the fine arts as well, including the cinema. This quote is a wonderfully concise way of summing up our existence on this earth. What have we done with our lives, what have we done with the short amount of time we are given? Did we always try to do the best we could with what we had to work with? Did we always try to do what was right, even if it was unpopular?
Just as nothing exists in a vacuum, nothing we do - good or bad - ever really goes away. What’s done is done. While it may be atoned for, no action can ever be undone. It has an effect on those around us, and yes, on those who come after us. In his Second Congressional Address, a similar idea was offered by President Abraham Lincoln when he said to an uncooperative Congress, “We shall be remembered in spite of ourselves.”
The reader may have noticed a common thread throughout most of these sayings: hard work, discipline and always doing the best you can. I think that almost no one would disagree that success in any field generally is only achieved by the application of these attributes. Discipline yourself to the do the work necessary, to do your best at all times, and instill this attitude in your students.