Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, as Nietzsche once said… and yet here I am coming back for a second round. Yes, it’s time for a re-match with the Rambling Roses (Rosa Multiflora) that are not so slowly but ever so surely taking over my parents’ property here in beautiful Nova Scotia.
The lesson I drew from my last encounter with these invasive giants was about physical work and the creative value to be gleaned from it. This time I’ve been pondering what might be learned from the plants themselves – and from the nature of the battle. More
Today we’re going to talk about mastery. Thats right, you heard me. Mastery. Not ‘being pretty good at something’ or ‘knowing more or less what you’re doing’ or even ‘being in the zone’ or ‘feeling the flow’. Mastery. Being a master of whatever it is that you do. You in? Good. Buckle up…
So. I have a few piano students these days, and while the lessons are largely focused on practical pianistic things, I try to teach from the same kind of holistic perspective and approach that informs my composition and performance work – and of course, this blog. So from time to time some of the more abstract and philosophical stuff does find its way into the lessons.
Recently I found myself trying to convey something which has become very central to my whole thinking about music and piano-playing, in a kind of subconscious way, and I think it applies to creative work more broadly. It concerns, as you may have guessed already, the concept of mastery.
I suspect that many creative people tend to have a vague idea of mastery as something unattainable, or at least attainable only by an elite and supremely gifted few. Something for the rest of us to strive towards, perhaps, but never attain. And what would it feel like to attain it, anyway, since we never really sit down and define exactly what it means? How would we know that we’ve arrived?
Some of us are even uncomfortable with the whole idea, mistrusting perhaps the elitist overtones… And yet there are masters, undeniably – those whose abilities seem to transcend normal limitations, whose confidence and poise match their technical command, who make it seem easy.
I believe that coming to terms with this word, and what it means to us, can have a profound impact on our approach to creative work. So I’m going to try to get very specific about what it means to me (and as always, you’re heartily invited to join me with your comments at the end!)…
I played an audition last week. For a gig that would really smooth over some bumps in our financial stability, at a big (actually I am told it’s the biggest theatre stage in the world!) and ultra-professional stage show. In all honesty it is artistically not my highest goal in life, but there are not so many solid jobs left for musicians and it’s an opportunity I’m not in a position to blow off.
However, that’s really not what this is about. What’s it about then? In a word, confidence.
It’s been a while since I did one of these auditions and I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it. I should clarify that I rarely ever get any kind of stage fright when actually performing; after thousands of times in front of audiences ranging from rather small to very big indeed, I generally don’t let that particular breed of anxiety get the better of me.
Auditions, however (and exams, though they are likely a thing of the past for me now) have always been a different story. They have always brought out the worst in me, all the self-judgment and second-guessing that this blog is all about transcending. In performance, the feeling that everyone is picking apart your work looking for flaws is largely imaginary; in an audition, it’s entirely real – in fact it’s the whole point. And it’s been an Achilles heel for me as long as I can remember.
This time was different: I found myself with an unexpected feeling of confidence, and I’m interested in uncovering where it might have come from. Let’s break it down. More