Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.17- Looking Both Ways

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Steve Jobs famously once said:
You can only connect the dots looking backward. Just make good dots.
My thought when I heard that was that in order to be successful you need to look both ways, just like we were always told when crossing the street. Here, though the looking is back and ahead. Looking back connects the dots, as Jobs indicated, helping us to see what we did (or didn’t do) to get where we are today. Looking ahead helps us think about where we want to be in the future. Many of us do that at certain times of the year- birthdays, anniversaries. But most of us do it this week between Christmas and New Year. Another year has passed, the year ahead is a so-called “blank slate”.

The subject reminded me of a saying I heard at Shell Lake last summer:
Whenever you go through a door- you will see four more doors appear.
There is a sense in that which says that we are never finished- when we make progress, we can see the progress we need to make. When we make progress, when we are successful or improve at what we are doing, we can see the new possibilities that lie ahead of us. And those possibilities multiply as we go through each door of progress.

Last year, for example, I made it my goal to learn the twelve major scales. I made it very successfully through that door. After that initial success I decided that advance in my skill led me to at least two more opportunities. One was to memorize Clarke #2- a great way to add to my skills at the scales. The other was that I found myself able to improvise on different scales more easily. Each of those doors has now led me to new confidence.

But there was a door I didn’t go through quite as well as I had hoped. I wrote earlier in the year about my “performance anxiety” and that over the years it doesn’t matter how well I know a piece, the move from the practice room to the performance venue never goes as well as I would like it to. I never play in performance as well as (I think) I do in practice. It happened again on Christmas and I found myself starting to slide back into the old thinking. “I’ll never get past it. I’m not as good as I think I am.” But looking back, I managed to say, “Not true!” Looking back and connecting the dots, I saw the Vintage Band Festival in July when I did the solo part of the Canadian Brass version of “Amazing Grace.” No accompaniment, no rhythm, just me starting out and paying. I can do it. I have made it through that door far better than I am willing to accept when I have a glitch. So what’s wrong? What is the next door ahead of me that this has brought me to?

See how it works? Connecting the dots as we look back helps us discover what we need to be doing ahead of us.

Take time this week then to first ask yourself:
  • What doors did you go through this past year
  • How far have you come?
  • What’s new about you this year?
  • What doors are now opened that you couldn’t have walked through last year at this time?
  • So what?
Looking at progress helps you see what you are still capable of doing. Looking at when we didn’t do as much as we wanted gets us looking at what we can do to change that. There’s an old saying:
Doing what you’ve always done will only get you what you have always gotten.
At that point we often rationalize or make an excuse why we aren’t doing something- “I can’t do that!”

In my examples of movement this year I have decided the next stage of work will be to learn the minor and 7th chords across the 12 keys. I’m still exploring the ways of doing that, but I know it is at the top of the goals for 2017. I have also been working on learning a solo from a recording I admire and enjoy. That is the next of my goals for the beginning of the new year- finish learning that and then adapting it for myself. And third, the performance issue. I realized that most of the time now it has nothing to do with how I’m feeling about myself or my ability; it is about how I focus- or don’t- getting ready for a performance. My third goal is only partially related to my music- it’s about focus and building my inner ability to do so. I have a couple things I want to do in that area and learn how to apply it to my performance.

Goals. That’s the other half of looking both ways. They are today’s dots leading to the ones we haven’t put down yet. That is how we make good dots that connect us from where we have been to what can yet become.

May you all have a Happy New Year- making music, enjoying music, and turning them all into the excitement and hope for you.

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