As we come near the end of another school year, I find myself thinking about all the connections I've made this season. As a teacher and as a performer I've met so many new students, parents, teachers, colleagues, supporters and friends. I've been touched by the youngest violinist playing an audition for the very first time. Only days ago I was moved to tears by my colleagues' performance in the exuberant Mendelssohn Octet. I'm grateful for all the new connections.
It's interesting to trace the effect music can have on personal connections. The desire to make music leads to instrument searches and lessons and practice and more practice. Then as we improve, we are all led to an entirely new place when we decide to step outside the practice room. It's a world where we can truly connect while we make music with others .
My personal "ah ha!" moment came while listening to an orchestra. The surprise was that the orchestra happened to be my elementary school's advanced strings playing a recruiting concert! To me, an impressionable 3rd grader, this was the most glorious music I'd ever heard. Those young musicians from a little elementary school in Oklahoma changed my life.
Recently I was contacted out of the blue by a successful professional violist who is the associate principal for a large metropolitan orchestra. We had played together nearly 25 years ago in our hometown youth orchestra. Through the wonder of the web he was able to connect with me. He wrote such a kind note thanking me for the inspiring impact I had on his musical life. The strange thing about it is I don't even remember him. Since he's a few years younger than me I'm sure I was focused on the older students and missed the connection entirely. Until now.
It hardly seems possible that I had made those connections so long ago without even realizing it. And yet, it is possible. It turns out my teacher was doing much more than molding students. He was the catalyst. He brought us all together; he helped us make connections through music. I wish I could thank him right now.
With your help, I can. As you wrap up your spring orchestra concerts and recitals and music classes think about the connections you've made. I know it's a relief that all the driving and the rehearsals and studying are finally coming to an end. But before you head out the door for the summer, take a brief moment and thank your parents and your stand partner and thank your teacher.
Inspiration visits us in many forms. It can strike suddenly like a bolt out of the blue or it might be as subtle as a wink and a smile. Really, inspiration is what we already know deep inside; it's simply waiting for us to pay attention. How can we clear the way to this inner knowing? If we bring our focus from the big picture to the smallest details we can let go of routine and free our spirit.
In my private studio students often play a problem passage and say, "I always play that part wrong." That's a telling phrase--a clue that it's time to look a little more closely. I encourage them to dissect the one tiny problem spot--what causes the stumble? Usually it's due to playing the piece every practice session from beginning to end without listening to the details. This practice room habit might even be a life habit. We tend to repeat the same thing over and over in exactly the same way. And we wonder why we aren't getting anywhere. If we slow down and listen we might be surprised what we hear.
I love to go for long bike rides. It's become my habit to set aside a couple of hours, drive to my favorite trail and ride as hard as I can out and back. Last Friday I met a friend who wanted to show me a new trail. As I began the ride I realized that I felt a little lost on a new route. I rode slower than usual, distracted by the unfamiliar scenery. Then, my friend suggested the unthinkable--"let's park our bikes so we can go see the nesting owls." I actually hesitated, " but I'm not going to get a good workout," I thought. To my surprise, my mouth blurted out, "I'd love to!" Shaken from my routine I walked to the owl's tree. The sight was serenely beautiful. Yes, I did let my heart rate drop, although I found myself breathing even more deeply because I relaxed and got off the same old path. I slowed down, took my eyes off the ground, and was surprised by what I saw.
Let's look closely at our stumbling blocks. Are you aware of the patterns that may impede your progress? Are you repeatedly tripping over the same bump in the road? Isn't it surprising how hard we can insist on repetition even if it's obviously not working? Shift your focus away from your routine and take a look at the details. Practice to solve the problem spots until the fingers and the psyche feel assured. Try something new and you may find that your bumps in the road have been transformed into starting blocks.
How rewarding to take the time to master a passage that seemed impossible! What a joy to discover that nature's wonders are also good for my heart! What you seek might be waiting for you in the most unexpected of places. If we take the care to look and listen inspiration just might come calling.