I got the CIM flute students together for our first studio class of the semester this week, and it was a pretty great event. I've always hoped that this class would be an open forum both for players to experiment with gaining performance experience and for observers to communicate constructive feedback. For reasons I'm still unsure of, this week's version was the best I've seen so far, especially on the latter front. The students were articulate, helpful, respectful, appreciative of each other. And the dialogue that ensued was good for everyone.
We had a fair amount of time left at the end of class, and I called for questions. And someone asked, "Mr. Smith, do you ever have bad days?" Now, I've had teachers who would have answered with something like, "Nope. Experience and all my hard work offers me the opportunity to sound great every time I pick up my flute." But I'm sure this isn't true for anyone. My answer was, "Of course I do," because I think it's essential (especially for very talented, disciplined, motivated, yet easily discouraged, young artists) to know that what I do every day is Difficult.
This opened a great discussion. "So, how do you deal with it when you do have a bad day?" "Can anyone tell?" "Does it ever get easier?" "Are you ever so nervous that you feel like you're losing control?" All of these questions and more came up during this week's class. And my attempt to help was to start babbling about how what time and experience have given me is at least the ability to consciously, instinctively understand the possible causes of the rift between my concept of what "good" is and what I'm actually hearing come out of my flute. I trust myself to hone in pretty quickly on what needs to be adjusted and to do something about it. More often than not, this is a kinesthetic experience, and quite often, I'm not very good at verbalizing exactly what I'm doing. (This is another blog subject entirely, but I'm also pretty sure that I don't really want to verbalize it most of the time...)
The important thing, the fundamental issue that allows any of this to start to work, is a cultivation of the ability to hear myself objectively as much as possible. A constant dialogue about what is going on, how different it might be from what I think I'd like to have going on, how close the outcome is to my projected concept is pretty much constantly running through my creative process. I've grown accustomed to listening to this process in my head and sorting through it, hopefully with a minimal amount of judgement and criticism. Here's the rub: there's a gray area in the balance between listening objectively and listening critically. And, while a critical ear certainly helps with the development of goals and the raising of standards, it also pretty quickly kills the ability to connect with the necessary exploratory and adventurous aspects of the process. Being human is understanding that the goal can't be perfection, and that, as the below-quoted yoga article eloquently offers, the goal might not be that important anyway. Maybe one of the best ways of negotiating this balance just has to do with attitude. When I pick up my flute, I try to do so with a thought like,"I'm really curious to see what's about to happen." Which I think is far more fun than, "God, I hope this doesn't sound as bad as I think it might."
Back to class. One of my students rescued me from my babbling by telling a story he had once heard about a tightrope walker. Asked by an adoring child after the circus how he always managed to keep his balance, his answer was, "I lose my balance all the time. I'm just good at getting it back quickly." This, I thought at the time, is a perfect distillation of what I think I was trying to say.