November 17, 2009 at 5:58 PM
Recently I’ve been hearing education discussed in various public forums as this administration implements new standards and national funding policies.
It’s a circus, but one with serious consequences.
So I’ve been mulling over the catch phrase given to the Obama program, namely, ‘The race to the top,’ as it might apply to a life in music.
Now, on the one hand, I certainly don’t have a problem with being the best one can be. Am I’m sure you feel the same.
What I do have a few reservations about, however, is the implication of self, or group improvement being a race; that we are continuously in competition with each other.
When such thinking becomes endemic within a national psyche it comes with a price, sometimes witnessed in horrifying tragedy – such as the recent student suicides in Korea preceding their national examinations – yet more often in a pervasive, underlying feeling of stress in the society.
Gradually the fun of learning and growing is replaced by a feeling that nothing is good enough.
And with this ultimately self-defeating mindset, the soul gradually forgets how to breathe.
When I practice, now, I am no longer ‘racing for the top’ – yes, I was at one time a victim of such thinking. Today I begin by merely becoming present with the feelings inherent in drawing a pure and well-tuned tone from the violin.
Only after I’ve ‘tuned in’ on this very basic level do I begin to stretch myself, and think, ‘where does it make sense to move from here.’ Sometimes this is a very easy decision, the session flows easily into an etude or piece of repertoire.
Sometimes, however, my left hand is reluctant, tight. If I were ‘racing to the top’ on such days you can imagine the frustration and impatience I could feel.
Totally counter-productive and useless.
I must necessarily inhabit in a world of incremental changes on some days, and be thankful for those just as I am for the great leaps in insight or performance that accompany others.
It all begins and ends with being present and excepting of the moment. Not in a complacent, flaccid sort of way mind you, but one that is dynamic, inquisitive and attentive to unrealized potential, small OR greatly profound.
Bottom line is, I’m sad, in a way, that our public discourse on what should or shouldn’t condition the conduct of our lives must be reduced to such simplistic, desensitizing catch phrases.
You are welcome to disagree with me, of course.
All the best,
Haste makes waste, and when we race around, we usually just end up chasing our tails. Just try to hurry a child! Nothing could be more counter-productive, and I think it goes for all of us.
I also see a double meaning in 'race to the top' as well. Certainly, as a society we should aim to have all races scoring at top levels on academic achievement tests, etc., but even that meaning is problematic. We can all improve ourselves, without being in a 'race" with one another, and one person's excellence doesn't need to displace another's.
I don't disagree at all, I appreciate the way you put this. I think it is very important to distinguish excellence and rigor from a winner-take-all race mentality. Excellence and rigor are open to anyone who is willing to make a commitment and work hard, but races by definition have only a one, or a few, winners.
I agree completely...I have experienced plenty of frustration in the practice room, and always from trying too hard. Once we let go, we let soul into our playing. Thanks, Clayton!
I agree so much. How often in recitals do I see kids that are pushed to always do more technical stuff to impress and the teacher looks at them all "blown away" because she or he's soooooo proud of him/her. I find it terrible. As an old starter, I know that you don't just have to play ok but also to sound ok and try to tell somthing. For me, this was obvious much before the time I started to come on forums or listening to famous players (but how to do it needs to be taugh!!!) These kids play with 0 musicallity and are out of tune yet they seem to play technically ok but it is terrible cruel for them because they don't even realize what a poison gift it is. They'll never want to come back to work on their sound and intonation after (to the "baby" stuff) because they surely think they are racehorses. It's so sad, when the technical level is good but that many people in the audience are almost sleeping because it's kind of boring even for non musicians. The kid is surely too busy to even pay attention to such details. There is just no communication or communication attempt (even if not perfect). In addition, there is a big danger to become pretentious with such mentallity (or very depressed as you said so well)
Totally agree too...
In my view, multiculturalism, materialism and rampant objectivism is leading us down a road of meaninglessness. We are now either in a state of losing meaning, or looking for meaning. Ours is a culture of immediacy selling it’s wares of change, saying it feeds the masses but is in reality a famine.
Peace of mind is found in the sublime. That peace is in some form or another, what we are seeking. Not competitive rancor.
I agree completely, too. I always struggle with my practicing and I have yet to be able to play something where I can hear meaning or emotion coming out of it. i am always racing to get things done while knowing the importance of rest and health, but It doesn't keep me from worrying that If I don't do it now that I'll never succeed. i am in my second year in college and have six more to go just to get my bachelors. I keep comparing myself to everybody else and all it is is a setback. I do myself no good. I am so frusterated, but I know that if i just do MY best that everything will be okay. I just have so far to go, it seems impossible.
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