This week Charleston International Music School kicked off the first week of its 2014 Summer Festival. These young musicians will perform at several locations in Charleston. It’s another incredible experience seeing these kids change their minds about what is possible for them. This article is a reprint from the 2012 festival as learning to listen to oneself is a lesson worth repeating.
It’s deeply rewarding to watch these young musicians from different places, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, grow and connect with each other. I get butterflies from seeing how they have the courage to play with passion, to seek excellence in their playing and to support each other. And here’s an insider tip for you. The dress rehearsals are more fun to watch than the performances. I almost stop breathing when I’m in a dress rehearsal because it’s so exciting to watch the musicians perform and get last-minute teaching from Ruben. Over time, you tend see similar results over and over, kind of like the same things we go through repeatedly.
Here’s the thing. These young musicians almost always act like the problems they’re having with playing a piece are outside of them, beyond their control. (Sound familiar?)
Here’s a great example. In any given dress rehearsal the vast majority of the students would complain that the piano accompaniment went too fast. Yet it is the violinist who determines the tempo. The pianist’s job (in accompanying another musician) is to follow the pace set by the other performer, not to set the tempo. I think what happens is that the student gets so wrapped up in anticipating the audience feedback that he or she goes a bit unconscious, and starts playing too fast out of nervousness. They know the piece but they typically underestimate their own power to play it well because they’re thinking about other things, and not being present.
The number-one thing I hear Ruben tell his students is to listen to themselves when they play. That’s the hardest lesson: to listen to yourself carefully instead of waiting for other people to decide if you’re good enough, in tune, on tempo, attractive enough, have enough money, properly educated or whatever.
Granted, it takes training the ear to recognize how things should sound. It takes training to learn that you’re not the center of the universe, that karma is real and virtue is its own reward. It takes time and focus to discern what it is you really want to do in this life, and how you want to live.
Listening to yourself makes you present. That means noticing the sound you produce, and making adjustments to the way you’re playing the instrument. Being present in a non-musical context means valuing yourself, knowing what you want, and being aware of what’s around you.
Being present is more powerful than being confident. And if confidence is better than money in the bank, imagine your world when you’re truly present to enjoy your reality.