I’m someone who aspires to my best, in every endeavor. Music has been my teacher, in this philosophy.
There are facets of our lives that we allow to be insulated from our commitment to excellence. We arbitrarily decide to discard our standards when a particular task is tedious or challenging or seemingly unimportant to us. “This is good enough”, we say.
But, every time I pick up my instrument, I strive to play with better time, tone, articulation, response, dynamics, expression, choices, phrasing, and intonation….the way I was taught. And, I try to carry that philosophy into every facet of my life.
A friend once said to me, “If you want to know where you stand musically, all you have to do is listen honestly to John Coltrane and then listen honestly to yourself. You’ll know exactly where you stand and you won’t need anyone to tell you anything.”
This resonated with me. The unfortunate part of studying iconic musicians is that it can lead to reverence. That reverence can be detrimental to improvement since we can begin to treat our elders as dieties. When seeing them this way, we can implicitly admit that we mortals don’t have the tools to be like them. But ironically, we’re often still comfortable referring to ourselves as having a Master’s Degree.
Being like Coltrane, or any other master, doesn’t mean sounding like Coltrane or playing his musical language. It means being the absolutely best, most intense version of yourself, in the same way as he was himself. It requires mindfulness, awareness, intention, and honesty. And, it doesn’t have to be Coltrane. It could be Maurice Andre, or Ornette Coleman, or JJ Johnson or Itzhak Perlman.
We can be ourselves at the highest level, if we do our best with every step we take. Respect for our elders is good. Self-respect will help us to become respected elders. We must respect ourselves enough to try.
Onward and upward.