Afew times a year a performing arts student walks into my studio and I learn that they are in a slump. They have lost their drive to practice. Inevitably they feel guilty or they wonder if this means they don’t love it and should quit. And I usually say this…
Only you know what your goals are, but maybe you don’t know this. It is normal to have days where you don’t want to go into the practice room. It is normal to want to be just like “everyone else” — free to do what you want and when you want. But what is your goal?
How does someone who is 12 years old get to the point of doing a Grade 8 piano exam? By being an athlete at their art. A bodybuilder hits the gym every day. An Olympic hopeful skater gets up at five in the morning and drives to the rink — because they have discipline. They learn that you don’t have to be ecstatically, giggly happy every time you do your thing.
We forget about the day-to-day commitment, and remember the highs of a performance or great achievement. But how did we get there?
How did we reach that feeling of incredible joy and confidence? One day at a time.
Every day is a commitment. Every day you reaffirm your goal by putting in the time it takes to become the best at what you do.
In a way, it is harder to be a privateinstrument student. You need to find that drive on your own or have parents or teachers who will be honest with you and remind you of your goal. A successful soloist ultimately sticks with it because they want it for themselves.
In a musical or on a football team, you need to show up regularly to practice because that is where you learn your part of the play. With so many moving parts, you need to be there in order for them to pass you the ball. If they don’t trust you, you won’t be a part of the big play.
Sports and theatre require trust. Trust that is built one rehearsal at a time. So prioritize your time with your team. The teams that soar have 100% attendance.
In private music lessons, only you know if you are showing up to rehearsal. You can even fool your parents or roommate. You can sit down at the piano and not do a focused rehearsal. You could sing the song through from top to bottom 15 times… and never really practice. Meanwhile, you get really bored with the piece.
I tell my students to become their own doctor. They need to learn what they are looking for in the mirror, or when they review recordings and activate their ears to hear and eyes to see. Then they need to diagnose the line of music in question and apply remedies. If they still have trouble, they take it to the specialist in their weekly lesson.
In my senior voice recital (a 60-minute voice exam performed in front of an audience by a music student in order to graduate with a degree in performance), I hated my German lieder. I just didn’t connect with it. I wanted the teacher to change those songs so badly. I loved the French, Italian, English, Opera and Musical Theatre pieces, but the German I put off.
It’s hard to practice something you don’t love. It’s hard to give up that time with your friend or reading that novel to go practice a song, or role, that you didn’t want from the beginning.
Through this experience I learned that I needed to love it. I needed to choose to love even when it was hard.
There have been times in my career when I was asked to perform songs or roles that I didn’t love or connect with. Ultimately, those gigs got me more work because I was able to convince the audience that I loved those pieces and I was able to make a meaningful difference in their wedding, funeral, or special event.
We perform because we love music and the way it makes others feel.
In order to be ready for those special moments in life when music has the power to move an audience to tears in mere moments, we must learn how to serve the music. It is not always about how we feel.
Artists should recognize our relationship to a piece right from the beginning, yes. Our feeling matters too. But, we too will be changed by the music if we serve it and don’t force it to serve us.
As always, lessons learned through the performing arts apply to everyone. What have you become disenchanted with? Do you expect this person or situation to make you ecstatically happy every moment you are engaged with it?
Perhaps your expectations need to be revised. Perhaps this is a time for you to trust your team and stay disciplined.
Everyone has days like this. We understand.
Now let’s make music.