Friday, December 03, 2010

Making Perfect

A long, long, long time ago when I was considering which musical pathway I wanted to take, the subject of practicing came to the forefront immediately.  I was a pianist, a violist, and a singer (we're really not counting being a 12-month trombonist (2nd chair), random recorder player or half-a-bagpipe-honker in this story).  I knew that pianists and violists could and should practice hours and hours and hours a day.  In fact, I knew graduate student piano majors who practiced upwards of 8-10 hours a day.  It's not that I didn't like to make music and I didn't like hard work to improve my skill.  But being confined to a very tiny practice room, spending 90 minutes on scales and arpeggios before I ever got to the actual making music part of the deal sounded like absolute torture.  My mind (and the rest of me) likes to wander too much to sentence myself to that kind of prison.

But singers, I knew were different.  Singers couldn't practice 8-10 hours a day.  A voice is too fragile.  Singers have to practice with utmost efficiency to get the most out of every minute.  I liked that idea a lot.  Of course, the voice has its own difficulties and problems that other instruments do not share.  We carry our instrument with us every single day.  It is affected by absolutely everything -- the weather, our hormones, our emotional well-being, the food we eat, the drinks we shouldn't drink, and the amount of sleep we never seem to get.  Still, it seemed like a great deal to me for NOT having to practice every waking hour of the day.

Later, of course, I discovered that our practice comes in several different forms.  There was the actual in the practice room practicing.  There was language study.  There was acting.  There was reading the works of poets and playwrights.  For a singer, there was an enormous amount of preparation that had to take place before we ever darkened a practice room door.  This suited me just fine.  It afforded me the best of all possible worlds -- being able to practice and make music while being allowed -- required, actually -- to do other things as well, all in the name of being a well-rounded musician.  Win-Win, if you ask me.

Still, learning to practice and how to practice is a skill.  It takes patience and perseverance.  Once in a practice room, the student becomes the teacher, and has to make their own corrections and require them to start over again, and again, and again, and again.  We have to be vigilant to fix what is wrong, but it's equally important that we remember to pat ourselves on the back when it's right.  It's a very important balancing act. 

They say that an amateur practices until they get it right, but a professional practices until they will never get it wrong.  There's a lot of truth to that statement.  And for all the musicians in the world that truly love what they do, practicing 1, 2, 4, 8, or 10 hours a day, or studying languages or acting or literature isn't punishment at all.  It's another opportunity to express and create.  Whether it's something beautiful, tragic, playful, thought-provoking or simple, the musician embraces the moment to make music, and to do it better than the day before. 

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