Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Tuning Slide - Everything is a Privilege

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The wise musicians are those who play what they can master
-Duke Ellington

It is so easy to think we are deserving of what we have and what we can get. It is a trap to believe that we are entitled to something, or have worked hard enough to have earned it.

Somewhere in the middle of trumpet camp, director Bob Baca made the comment to us:
  • Everything is a privilege. We don't deserve any of it.
We all shook our heads in some kind of understanding. It made some kind of sense. We don't "deserve" it.

So as I started writing this week's post I decided to think more about the word "privilege" and was surprised to be reminded that the word can be very loaded with negative connotations.

Here are three ways to define "privilege." These are from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and show how it can certainly be a negative idea:
  • a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others
  • the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society
  • a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud
Using the word "privilege" begins to sound like an entitlement some people expect or get simply because of who they are. It is a special "right" that not every one has and that can easily be used to put others down or elevate ourselves more highly than we ought to.

But that's not where I want to go with this. That's not what was meant when we were told that "Everything is a privilege." In reality, the word privilege when used in this was is actually a humbling word.

Let's look at the last one of the above definitions for our purposes here this week:
  • a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud
I would expand that a little by using several examples:
  • I have been privileged to have known a number of deeply committed people in my life.
  • I have been privileged to be allowed to help other people in my work.
  • I have been privileged to be part of an amazing group that helps others.
All these recognize that not everyone may have had the same "privileges" as I have, but these are not mine because of something I am or who I am or even what I have done. I have been given the honor of doing these things.

That humbles me since it is not by my good works or special talents that have allowed me this honor. Many times it may simply be that I was in the right place at the right time.

What does this have to do with my trumpet playing? How could this impact how I play, practice, or interact with others?

For me it starts with the awareness that the opportunities I have to be a musician start out as a privilege. Not everyone has these opportunities nor does everyone want them. I have been fortunate to have the opportunities, the time, (hopefully) the talent to do something wonderful like making music. It does not make me any more special than anyone else. It is simply what I have been given and worked at developing.

The key to that is to then remember that when I face someone who may have different skills or interests than I do. It means accepting the musician who is better than I am- and supporting the one who is not as good as I am. It puts me in the better position of having to prove anything- or disprove anything. I can simply be the player- and person I am.

It also means that I am also being given the privilege from time to time to give others of what I have been given. Through my music in the different groups I play with, I am giving to those listening and to those who play in the group with me, a piece of myself. If I believe that music is as important as I say it is, it is humbling to be able to share in whatever ways possible with others. The opportunities are endless.

But I am also privileged to receive from my co-musicians as we make the music together. It is all a give and take. When I live as if all I have is a privilege, I can make a difference in my own life as well as the lives of others.

Like everything else, and as I always seem to be saying-
that's a lot like life.

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