Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Place of Praise

Busy with classes, busy with rehearsals, assignments, papers, research projects, boards, recital deadlines, lesson agendas! The treadmill gets faster and bumpier. "Do this, now do that. No, do it this way, not like that! Bud does it like this, never like that!" Such is life in the university trumpet world. Comparisons and great expectations with the bar rising as we speak.

The pressure is tough, stressful, and necessary. But is something missing from the picture? I wonder if the injection of something else at just the right time and in just the right amount, might prove the spark that motivates students to super-excel. Wise use of this ingredient could easily shrink some of those hurdles and propel runners to run faster and jump higher.

Recently one of our students returned from an out of town "root canal" of a weekend. It was an audition, board, sit-in rehearsal, interview experience that was probably quite nerve-wracking. It was scrutiny under the high powered microscope required these days in order to land a job in a good university. You have to have it all: orchestral repertoire, soloistic flair, chamber music sensitivity, thorough knowledge of the music field, as well as favorable people skills to boot! A lot of hats to wear comfortably in order to get that first paycheck!

"Well, how did it go?", I asked after it was over. "Give me a full report!" The student modestly summarized the events still very fresh in mind. But what followed was the wonderful result of that ingredient that so easily gets neglected. This student was made to feel at home all during the audition experience and was appropriately complimented for specific points of excellence. Genuine and well-deserved praise was offered. As a result, this student played the best lesson I can remember! It seemed almost like a new person, a new player, a motivated player!

Nothing comes over night, and confidence needs to be built over time. Respect must be earned and worked hard for. Pressure is good, but there is time and a place for praise because it can often accomplish far more than even honest criticism. Flattery never works, however, and is a sad counterfeit. But how often is genuine, well-deserved praise, admiration and appreciation given for things done well? Isn't that what is expressed by the audience at the end of the concert?

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