Monday, November 26, 2018

4.20- Tuning Slide: Confidence, Ego, and Humility

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If you got a trumpet, get on your feet, brother, and blow it!
— Nick Cave (punk-rock musician)

That’s a call to confidence if I ever heard one. Barry Green in the book Mastery of Music that we have been looking at over these months lists the eighth and ninth pathways to mastery this way:

# 8: Confidence: From Bravura to Integrity (Trumpet)
# 9: Ego and Humility: From Fame to Artistry (Opera, Jazz, and Theater Singers)

What really is confidence? Green quotes a definition this way:
An accepted and unheralded evidence within a person that gives a person the unconscious knowledge that he/she is able to produce outstanding results in his/her chosen career under almost any circumstances. Full technical control is a must: this “evidence to oneself” provided by preparation and determination is what fosters confidence and it becomes stronger with experience.
He then lists some of the ways we develop confidence. Among them are:

◦ Preparation by Overpreparing
We are back at practice, practice, practice. If we think we can escape from that or make it optional because of how far we have advanced, forget it. Right now. Some truly advance players may get by with a daily “warm-up.” But that “warm up” will always include scales, chromatics, long tones, and all the basics. And it will usually be at least two to three hours a day. So practice is where confidence must start, not on some self-interpreted view of how good we are. This also includes knowing more than just what we are doing. Sometimes that means studying the music, reading about it, listening to recordings in order to find out where and how your part fits in. It’s all in the over preparing! As Green puts it, we are not just a “right-note” playing machine. We are making music.

◦ State Your Case with Passion and Meaning
Because of the over preparation, one does move beyond just playing the right notes. One also beings the excitement, the passion, the meaning of the music to life. My interpretation of that will be different from yours. If we are in a group together, we learn to state our understanding in relationship to the other musicians. That brings in the ability to listen and learn.

◦ Confidence is a Journey of Learning
Learning is what confidence opens us up to do. Paying attention in practice, rehearsal, and performance opens us to know what we need to do to move forward. Since we have over prepared, we have moved beyond “right-notes” to expressing ourselves. But that doesn’t always work. We get lost, make a mistake, get stuck. So learn from it. The next time, when we get it the way we want it, our confidence will be back.

◦ Stay Within Your Limits, (then) Don’t Think, Just Play
Needless to say, Green, as one of the teachers of the Inner Game, brings us around to allowing Self 2 to be in charge. Thinking is Self 1. By this time we have learned (Self 1) that we can do what we want to do. We then trust ourselves (Self 2) to do it. If we are honest about what we can do at this moment, we will know what is ready for public performance and what isn’t there yet. Staying within limits is NOT about only playing what you used to be able to play, it is about not moving on until Self 1 can shut up and let Self 2 move on.

How do we maintain and continue to build confidence? If we only rest on what we did last time, we will not grow as a musician nor develop confidence to do more than we did last time. Here are some of the ways Green mentions to help confidence grow:
◦ Focus on the Music, Not on What People Think of You
◦ Focus on What You Have Accomplished and What You Can Do
◦ Enjoy Your Anxieties- You are Not Alone
This last one can be tough. This may be where many give up, lose confidence, stop growing. I am not the first player to have flubbed playing Taps on Memorial Day (an old story.) But when I allowed that to become m identity as a solo trumpet player, my anxieties became too great and I couldn’t move beyond them. We grow in confidence when we we are honest with ourselves and move on.

Look, man, all I am is a trumpet player.
— Miles Davis

Confidence can build the image that trumpet players have been accused of. Green calls that “bravura,” the swagger and overt confidence we present even when we don’t have it. Trumpet players are not known for their quietness and humility. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! If anything it is a call to maintain our proper place in the band. That leads to humility. Humility, of course, can have a couple definitions. One is humility means that we are willing to be teachable. A second is to have a proper knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses. Confidence, built on humility is powerful. It will ring out with the sound of, well, trumpets.

It takes a healthy ego to become confident enough to be humble. What a seemingly paradoxical statement that is! Low self-esteem does not build confidence. Low self-esteem presents our weaknesses and uncertainties and set in stone. “Poor me, that’s just the way I am.” Healthy ego allows us to be truly humble. Oh, by the way, I am not sure we can work on becoming humble. “Look how hard I’ve worked and how successful I have become at being humble!” Not!

I have put these two pathways to mastery together because I believe that when one reaches the pathway of confidence the logical next step is moving away from negative ego to true humility. One cannot, or better not, become so enamored of one’s own sound on the instrument, especially trumpet, that we think we are far and above others. THAT is not confidence. That is unhealthy ego. But neither should the musician, especially the trumpet playing musician, be so shy as to hold back when they need to stand up and blow! Humility does not mean taking a back seat or being reserved when the situation calls for leadership. Musical leadership, whether one is a lead trumpet player or third clarinet, is found in the attentiveness to the music, the focus on one’s sound, and the ability to play well with others.

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision.
You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.
—Theodore Hesburgh

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