There Are No Shortcuts

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This weekend we had our end of the year student recital and as always it was fun and entertaining to watch and listen to the performances and the personalities and observe their progress.   It never ceases to amaze me how different each student is and how despite these differences music has the capacity to open up a voice of expression for each one of them.

Music is an interesting study when it comes to demonstrating objective results. What I mean is that in other disciplines measuring progress is often a matter of doing well in a test score and this of course would invite the question: “Are tests an accurate measure of progress?” With music the progress and results of study and practice are completely revealed in the activity of performance, it is all right there to see and hear in the amount of time it takes to perform. It makes me think of the training that goes into running the 100 meter dash, to use a physical sport example. In the final analysis of all the training and all the work and dedication it comes down to “how fast was your time in running 100 meters?”

With a musical performance there is far more to the process than meets the eye and ear at the time. For a professional performer it is a matter of developing a wide array of different disciplines and cross training from the minutia of physical technique to the development of a diverse repertoire as well as understanding the historical context. This is combined with an intimate understanding of the workings of music with the study of harmony and theory and composition and this in turn all must be reconciled to ear training.

Many years ago (after a frustrating lesson with another student) my composition teacher scowled at his piano and voiced in frustration: “there are no shortcuts!”. I have rolled this thought around in my mind in my own teaching for many years and now understand very well what Darwin was saying at that time, but it is of special relevance in the world we live in now.

Anything worth doing is an engagement in the process of doing it for the love of doing it. The final results of racing the award-winning 100 meter dash or performing an emotional and moving performance has to do with the thousands of hours that went before it. In this age of immediate satisfaction and thrill seeking it is somewhat disturbing to consider that the process of music making may become an anachronism. Instead of labouring over a musical instrument it might be easier and more immediately rewarding to buy the latest computer and software and make exciting sounds by pressing buttons. But the question I ask as a musician is: “Is this music?” and “does it satisfy the soul?”.

The reward in music making is found in the process. It is in the hours of working on the details of a musical phrase or a musical idea. It is in the line of the melody, the beauty of the tone, of bringing something that was in the mind to life on an instrument and then bringing that to others in a performance. Making music is about how to make something beautiful and then communicate that to others.

Yes, music is a very interesting case study in the objective. The “objective” is to make music and music can only be made through a long and wonderful process, no matter what the level. Many years ago in that moment of frustration my dear teacher unknowingly taught me a lesson that has lasted a lifetime – there are no shortcuts to the destination of creativity and music making, so enjoy the journey.

On Sunday at the student recital we watched and listened to a lot of students and young budding creative minds who are beginning to learn the meaning of that.

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