Saturday, August 23, 2014

September 1974

I watched "It Might Get Loud" tonight and was inspired by how these three excellent musicians described how they make their art and how they came to do it.  In particular, Jack White's talk with his nine-year-old self and his comments about how music is often taught in public schools provoked feelings in me about my 12-year-old self taking up viola and I wondered what I would tell myself then if I had the chance.

Of course, at age 12, I had no way of understanding most of what I was going to go through during the next 10 years -- musically or otherwise -- even if I could pass the wisdom of hindsight back to that version of me.  But I realized that I am still struggling with many of the same things 40 years along, so taking a moment to articulate that advice for myself seemed like a useful exercise.  If I am fortunate, I will be more capable of heeding it in my middle- and old-age than I was in my adolescence.

Sixteen Things I Would Tell My 12-Year-Old Self Taking up Viola
  1. This instrument has a beautiful voice.  Let yourself fall in love with it.
  2. To play certain kinds of music, you may need to follow some rules.  However, there aren’t actually any rules.  
  3. You can play anything on this instrument that your skill will allow.  (Go ahead; play Led Zeppelin if you want.)
  4. If you don't have the skill to play what you want, let that be the reason to practice. 
  5. Practice does not require suffering, but it does require effort.  Keep at it. 
  6. It’s okay to make practice fun.  It’s also okay for it to be intense.
  7. Listen for what wants to be played.  
  8. Letting yourself go may be scary, but taking risk is the only way to real satisfaction.  
  9. Make horrible noises.  
  10. Experiment.  Dangerously.  
  11. If you ever start to wonder why you’re doing this, stop what you’re doing and just play what feels good.  
  12. Learn to measure others' feedback against your own sense of what works.  Give yourself time for this. 
  13. Every teacher has something to offer you.  Listen especially closely to the ones that lead you to wonder.
  14. Be inspired.  
  15. Put your inspiration to use.  
  16. When in doubt, go with what feels true.