Monday, March 16, 2009

Life Lessons at the Piano

I heard today that the Baltimore Opera is filing for bankruptcy (Oh Obama, where is their bailout money?) and the hue and cry commenced regarding that the arts are just not important...we must have jobs, etc! Of course I agree that jobs and the economy are important, but an opera company employs many people...highly skilled people who have dedicated many years to their craft and are at the top of their profession. Their livelihoods are just as important as a CEO, stockbroker, or bank manger. No one ever seems to cry over lost jobs in the arts. That's sad especially when to my knowledge I don't know of any opera singer who ever defrauded the public of millions of dollars...unlike a CEO, stockbroker or bank manager...This brings me to what I really wanted to say about my life working in the arts as pianist, teacher and arts administrator.

Music has always been a part of my life, even when for a decade after college I wasn't earning a living as a pianist and teacher. Through my studies at the piano, I've learned to:

pay attention to details no matter how small;
move forward no matter what happens;
recover from mistakes;
exhibit grace under pressure;
be fully in the present while looking towards the future;
value hard work and tenacity;
respect the past;
recognize genius; and to
see beauty in all forms.

I may have learned these lessons in life some other way, but I'm sure that the study of music ingrained these lessons into the fabric of my being. Once an interviewer asked me what were the rewards of a life dedicated to the piano. I answered that anytime I want to, I can go to the piano and play a Beethoven Sonata. What I was trying to say is that to be able to bring to life a great masterwork of the piano literature is to reach the top level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs ("Self-Actualization needs - realising personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.") I continue every day to seek out self-fulfillment in every aspect of my life --- music has taught me the value of this endeavor.

After my student recital on March 1st, one of my students wanted to quit taking lessons. I was surprised as this student played very well on the recital and performed a piece that was challenging and above her piano "grade" level. When talking with her about why she was unhappy with lessons, she said that younger students were in the same grade books as she was and some younger students were even ahead of her. She found this to be upsetting. I so understand where she was coming from, it is so hard not to compare ourselves to others, especially when they appear more successful.

I reassured her that no one knows what level of lesson books she is currently studying as her piece was not in any "lesson" books, but from a book of piano solos by contemporary composers writing pieces to be performed in concerts. I also said that the "level" she is currently working on isn't important to anyone except herself and the goals that she and I have set for her piano study. I also told her that isn't it interesting that we acknowledge our peers who are ahead of us and appear to be better. All throughout our lives so many people will be more accomplished, smarter, better and faster no matter what field we are in. When I'm striving ahead I only see how far I have to go and I forget to look at where I've been and how much I've accomplished. I told my student that this is a hard, but valuable lesson to learn. I said that no one else walks in her shoes and only she knows how much she has accomplished and now much more she will want to accomplish. Learning to value her own journey, acknowledging and respecting her own unique gifts and talents, and being at peace with her choices (in my student's case, she practices only the minimum required and I pointed out that the students who are ahead of her practice a great deal more than she does!) will go a long way towards creating a healthy, happy life. Not to say that she shouldn't strive to be a better pianist as that is why we work together. My student has decided to continue taking lessons.

In my former life as an arts administrator, I worked hard to bring art to the public. It was always an uphill battle. Raising money was the main part of my job no matter what position I held (board member, executive or development director, secretary, or assistant.) To say that raising money was gruelling and often demoralizing is beside the point (it was!) The difficulty of the task only strengthened my desire to show that arts make a difference.

Sometimes they make the biggest difference by their absence. During the 80s to the mid 90s, we fund raisers were always trying to show that the arts have economic value by enhancing other businesses such as tourism, restaurants, or neighborhood revitalization; or that students would demonstrate greater learning ability though higher test scores if art was part of the curriculum; or that somehow art was going to change your life if only you'd just come to the performance or museum and just experience it. I don't ever remember trying to sell the public or private sector on what an absence of art in our communities would be like. Now scientists are discovering that there may be an evolutionary reason for music, social theorists are suggesting that "ugly" environments lead to nihilistic and violent behaviors, and that the stories we tell ourselves as a culture (theatre, art in museums) determine our successful survival (Jared Diamond makes an excellent case for this theory in his book Collapse). In other words, art is vital! So to borrow a phrase from my fund raising more than ever, a strong case should be made for what happens if we don't have art, music, theatre, and beautiful public spaces in our communities.

Why Music from the
Is music the most important thing we ever did ? Music, development and evolution
Northern Ill. University: Was the Killer Crazy, or the Campus Hopeless?

1 comment:

"Philomere" said...

This is a wonderful post. You should add journalism to your repertoire of talents!