Written by Daniel Broniatowski
Published: November 23, 2014 at 10:22 PM [UTC]
Today I approach you with a principle that is often so overlooked in our music lessons and practice sessions that it is akin to mistaking the forest for the trees. It is a principle so important and vital that it is perhaps the most positively life-changing benefit that learning and practicing a musical instrument brings to our lives, no matter what your age. This, my friends, is the principle of self actualization.
Self actualization, as defined by Wikipedia, "is a term that has been used in various psychology theories, often in slightly different ways. The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one's full potential. Expressing one's creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society are examples of self actualization."
In other words, self-actualization is the inherent desire to use one's unique talents and abilities to to what he or she is meant to do on our planet and for each other. We, in the United States, often take this principle for granted, but such thinking is only but a recent development in the long history of mankind.
An intuitive teacher, who really is a mentor, knows how to bring out the qualities of each individual student in such a way that he or she feels empowered to realize his or her full potential. Of course, this can mean different things to different people. Two fundamental questions arise.
1. If a student is young, isn't he or she too young to worry about such a big concept as self actualization?
2. What if violin lessons (or any other instrumental lessons) do not fit into the big picture for a student's life goals? What if he or she doesn't wish to become a professional musician?
Both of these questions can be answered by one statement:
It's not the destination that matters, but the journey.
In other words, it is the process of learning that makes life meaningful. I don't care if my students are learning violin, math, science, or history. We all are born with unique proclivities in life toward various subjects and it is the process of learning that truly allows one to self actualize. If a student is gifted enough with the ability to derive benefit from music lessons, he or she is gifted enough to learn the principle of self actualization by harnessing this unique talent.
But wait, there's more!
Learning, for learning's sake isn't enough. Whether learning math or music, a student needs to apply the subjects to real life to make them truly meaningful and relevant. For instance, what use is knowing the periodic table of elements if one never intends to use the knowledge in a laboratory? Similarly, what use is it to spend hours in the practice room if a student of music cannot communicate with an audience?
Sure, there are known therapeutic effects of playing for oneself, in addition to studying chemistry (if that's what keeps you sane), but to achieve TRUE meaning in life, we must use our talents to better our fellow man or woman.
How can this be done? Well, this is where you come in, my dear reader. The answer lies in your unique situation. You might not yet know the answers, and that's ok. These answers get revealed over time and one thing's for sure - You cannot force the answers. Being impatient with oneself is certainly not going to help. Furthermore, finding meaning is a life-long process. I am convinced that a life of meaning and purpose is what ultimately makes us happy.
Here are some questions though, that could help you find YOUR musical purpose:
1. What are my earliest memories of performing/learning my instrument?
2. Who am I playing for when I'm on stage? or Who do I wish to play for on stage?
3. What do I believe music can do for humanity? There is no wrong answer, no matter how idealistic you might think it sounds!
4. What do I, as an individual, have that no one else has that I can contribute to society as a human being through musical or non-musical channels?
As you can see, it's all about the I-You relationship. I conclude with some wise words from the great ancient Rabbi Hillel the Elder who said "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Music to Warm the Heart
Some of us do it for ourselves, not for others. Indeed performing for me ruins the experience. Not only does it bring out far more the self-critic in a negative and non-productive way, it opens my personal journey to the critique of others, whose opinion of an adult learner I do not need nor want (beyond that of my private teacher). Maybe that, to you, is pointless. But hopefully you can understand some of us just have different goals.
Just as knowing the periodic table may enable me to understand a science program or a concept from my larger world, without me needing to go to work in a lab, appreciating and enjoying music can bring something to my life and appreciation of the world without me needing to perform.
Just my thoughts
"Learning, for learning's sake isn't enough. Whether learning math or music, a student needs to apply the subjects to real life to make them truly meaningful and relevant. For instance, what use is knowing the periodic table of elements if one never intends to use the knowledge in a laboratory? Similarly, what use is it to spend hours in the practice room if a student of music cannot communicate with an audience?
Sure, there are known therapeutic effects of playing for oneself, in addition to studying chemistry (if that's what keeps you sane), but to achieve TRUE meaning in life, we must use our talents to better our fellow man or woman."
My response to this is that I think that this is a subjective idea. First, some of the most meaningful times in my own life have been spent alone. Second, I think that learning for learning sake IS enough for some people--if you spend time with the elderly, what "true meaning in life" may be very different for them, and we can learn from this. Does my grandfather study history to use his new talents in history knowledge to better his fellow man? No way. But does the study give him a better understanding of himself and his family, past and present? I think so.
And same goes with learning music...we self-actualize to the way that best suits us--for some by performing, for some by playing alone in an open field, for others...
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