Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.22- Gratitude and Music

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.
- Fredrich Nietzsche

It is Thanksgiving tomorrow. It is the day we single out to be grateful. In reality gratitude and thanksgiving are actually essential elements of happy and many creative lives. It can provide a sense of hope and strength in even the most difficult of times and places. It is good to take a moment this week to remember to be grateful.

Almost four years ago The Huffington Post had an article titled Music and Gratitude: The Gifts That Keep On Giving by Frank Fitzpatrick. ( The writer had attended a rare concert by composer Johnny Mandel ("The Shadow of Your Smile", the "Theme from M*A*S*H") which was on Mandel’s 88th birthday. Fitzpatrick wrote:
I felt deep gratitude for that opportunity to be there with Johnny, my good friends and the beautiful music. I enjoyed a sonic journey back through my life — reflecting on loved ones and fond memories. It was Johnny himself, however, who brought the power of gratitude into the spotlight. With an innocent pride and profound sense of humility, he turned and thanked us for sharing with him the greatest birthday gift he could ask for — a chance to make music and to relish with us in the experience as his compositions were performed by these astounding musicians. You could see the youthful sparkle of joy in his eyes.
Truly one of the great joys of music is to be in the presence of such mastery as Johnny Mandel or Doc Severinsen or whoever your musical hero might be. Those of us who had the chance this past April to meet Doc in Eau Claire, WI, are still living in the glow of that time. I wish I could have played in the band behind him, but just to be there as the music flowed in gratitude from him was a life -filling moment. Earlier in the day we heard Doc interviewed by Bob Baca and it was amazing to see and feel a sense of humility and gratitude. It was real.

That evening, after the show in the green room I had the opportunity to be with a number of the students as they waited for Doc. When he was ready he didn’t disappoint any of us! He was as truly present with each of them (and me) as he was on the stage with the music. Again, here was a musical icon, superhero, superstar, and many other things. Yet he paid attention to us. I heard from others similar stories of their interactions with Doc. He showed amazing gratitude for what he has been able to do in his now 90+ years.

Fitzpatrick expressed in his article what I had felt from Doc:
This sense of deep gratitude, and the humility that makes it possible, is one of the most inspiring qualities that I have found in other visionaries and masters of their craft whom I have had the privilege to meet in my life….
It brings me back to my opening paragraph above about the essential foundation of gratitude. It can lead us to be more present (mindful) in daily experiences. It can fill us with those moments of awe when we play an amazing piece or participate in an equally amazing concert. It can lead us to know life in new ways. Again, from Fitzpatrick’s article:
I found myself reflecting on the deeper meaning and quality of life. I thought about the values and tools that have allowed me to be more present, to feel more deeply and to continue to reconnect to the joy in life. I remembered what my mother taught me about the power of humility and what one of my teachers meant when he said gratitude was the shortest road to joy. While music has been one of the greatest connectors for me, I have come to realize how much more empowering that emotional channel can be when I surrender to it, trust in it, and honor life with humility and gratitude. Music can, in and of itself, be a great expression of gratitude.

I believe that true musical mastery, like gratitude itself, requires a kind of humility — a recognition that something far greater than us is at play, and an appreciation for the gifts and love we have received.

No matter where I find myself in my life, I can always return to the music and the gratitude and follow that path to joy.
I don’t believe I can add much more to that, other than to take the time tomorrow to reflect on what I have been blessed and present to experience since last Thanksgiving. The joy of gratitude is real as I have had the opportunities (many of them!) to be part of things that are greater than I am. In them I find joy- and home and meaning.

What does this have to do with this month’s theme of practice? Actually everything. If we do not approach our practice, our musical learning, and our musicianship as a gift to be grateful for, we will not put the energy or care into it. I really want to say, we won’t put the love into it. If I don’t love my music and my practice of it, if I am not grateful for the growth that practice can bring, I will lose interest and not go where the music can take me. I will be mediocre, or mechanical, or emotionless in my music without love and gratitude for music.

What a gift to celebrate each day. Take time to practice and play your music with gratitude this week. It will be amazing, I am sure.


Finally, a shout-out to all of you who have mentored me, played in groups with me, given me inspiration and direction since last Thanksgiving. What a gift you have all been to me. I can’t name you all for fear of forgetting someone. Fellow students, instructors, colleagues on the stage, gurus, and superstars- thank you!

Link to Huffington Post article.

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