Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why bother!

Sometimes the stack of stuff on the stand is overwhelming. We try to get a running start with intentions of covering everything, but after only a short time the give-up syndrome takes over as nothing feels right. Yesterday might have been fantastic, but it's just not working today for a bunch of reasons, or no reason at all. Was lack of motivation the problem, practice habits, or something else?

How about an adjustment of our definition of progress. Ideally every day is a day of hard, wise practice with lots of noticeable improvement and satisfaction. Real life is rarely that good however. The reality is that the biggest obstacle to improvement is not so much technical as it is mental.

On days when nothing feels right, here's the chance to remember why we're practicing. It's about improvement, not performance. Getting better is the goal. That happens at a variety of speeds, sometimes quickly, most times gradually. The important thing is to ensure that it happens every day. On those down days, just make sure there is some progress even if it only feels like maintenance.

Adjusting our expectations will help when we encounter frustrating practice sessions. Temporarily lower the bar and just keep plugging away at basic small tasks. Inspiration will come and go, but execution must be automatic. Many things can be practiced diligently apart from bursts of enthusiasm. Remember, your daily goal is improvement, not perfection.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Student's Dad

Christopher Kiradjieff came for his first trumpet lesson when he must have been in about the fifth or sixth grade. His father, Conny, a top violinist in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, brought him for those first lessons while he sat at the far end of the room and observed. He pretended to be reading a book, but I noticed that he was doing a lot more listening than reading. I also sensed that he could have interrupted at any moment and finished teaching the trumpet lesson flawlessly with no further help from me. I loved it. This student was going to get a lesson every day at home!

Chris began improving quickly, and I could see that his dad was very proud of him. I know that Conny in his old-school way was tough on his son, the kind of toughness that produces good results. Chris inherited his father's musical instincts and had the benefit of hearing first-hand the hundreds and thousands of stories and anecdotes of life's ups and downs in his dad's world. A lifetime of invaluable lessons and information surely was available daily in their household free for the taking. Music was deeply ingrained in the man, and could not be contained. Many students and colleagues have benefited from their association with him.

As committed and talented as Conny was as a violinist, he was equally the courteous gentleman, never uttering an unkind word about anybody. I remember him being very intense, but not without that smile, laugh and down-to-earth humility that made everyone love him.

I always thought of Conny as being one of the best and most mature musicians on the stage. If he were here now, I can hear him impatiently insisting on talking instead about me and my family. "Tell me, how's your family?" I liked him particularly because he kept what he knew quiet, never advertising his opinions. Wisdom was there if one wanted to dig for it. To all he was sincere, warm, very friendly, and genuinely interested in you.

Conny passed away this past Friday, August 8th, 2008. Many are already missing his energy and friendliness. Conny's tenure with the CSO was an amazing 49 years, while he was also very busy teaching at the College-Conservatory of Music. I'm sure that one of Conny's most proud moments was when his son Chris joined him in the orchestra. And now his son, Christopher, is currently continuing the long run of having their family name in the program for many years to come.