Thursday, October 30, 2008

Treadmill on the Incline

It's just what you asked for, your very own Life Style Treadmill! It comes complete with lengthy practice manuals and a lifetime guarantee. The fine print warns that you will wear out before it does! Nevertheless, you accept the challenge, and it quickly becomes the focus of your life. You're on it 24/7.

But what happens when that treadmill seems stuck in the inclined position? Instead of walking on air, your every step is a painful uphill climb. Or worse yet, that exhilarating jog has become a joyless drudgery. Soon you're thinking, "How could this have been so much fun, and now so much work? And everything hurts! Do I really want to keep doing this?" Congratulations! You have just run into your first wall.

Playing trumpet can be just as rigorous as a long uphill jog. Various degrees of burnout are quite common at music schools. In fact, it might as well be in the small print of every course description: WATCH OUT FOR THE WALL! The problem is that we didn't expect it. After only a few months you are seriously tempted to rethink your commitment to your ongoing warfare with your trumpet.

Be encouraged. You are fortunate to have just experienced a microcosm of reality. It happens after school just as much as in school. Start learning to deal with it now and prepare yourself. Those oncoming walls have their way of blindsiding you. Our job is to expect them and to learn to avoid their damaging physical and emotional effects. A wall can ruin your music making. You must tear down that wall! (or avoid running directly into it)

In my opinion there are two things that will help overcome debilitating discouragements. The first is a mindset that is committed to a daily routine of basic fundamentals regardless of how you feel. You can't wait for winds of inspiration to blow before you ever tackle your work. On the other hand, you don't beat yourself up, but you regularly develop those basics that will make you great.

The second is the most powerful. It is what got you were you are so far. It is your love for music. Without that, you cease to be an artist, only a mechanic. Go ahead and be the mechanic, but also be the musician. An intense passion for music can be the most effective weapon in sustaining you through stressful times. Your musical message must be stronger than the steep road in front of you. Use the looming walls out there to motivate you to develop your musical instincts and skills before you ever encounter the opposition.

One last thought. It's not about how great you become, but how much you love what you do. It is those who will have the most impact. Few seem to really enjoy their work. Be one of those who do. Keeping alive your love of music will sustain you and give you much to share. Keep running. You're not done yet. That wall may be the best thing that you ever ran into!


Peter said...

Hey Phil I love your blog, I've read every entry at least once!

Something I've always told myself during tough times is that when we're at our lowest point is when we're closest to making real progress. Learning the trumpet (or anything, for that matter) is a series of peaks and valleys, and when you're at the bottom of the deepest valley you can bet that there's an equally large mountain just around bend!

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