Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Truth Moment

For some, it happens when they’re very young. For others, it may not happen until they’re teenagers. For many, it happens in college. For some, it may not happen until graduate school or later. For a rare few, it may never happen at all. It’s rarely a pleasant moment (at least at first), but it’s one that shapes all of us forever once we experience it.

What am I talking about? That moment I call the Truth Moment: the moment when we realize that, as musicians, our natural talent and existing technique isn’t enough to carry us where we want to go. The moment when we realize that the habits and patterns of playing and thinking that we’ve been carrying with us for most of our lives, often without even knowing it, are holding us back. The moment when we realize that we’re going to have to take a deep breath, summon up our courage, and push ourselves and our playing to a place beyond where we’re currently comfortable.

The Truth Moment is more than just realizing that we need to practice hard, although that can certainly be part of it. It’s realizing that we have to let go of something old and embrace something new that makes this moment so unique and defining for each of us. It’s often a moment when we, for the first time, honestly look at where we are as players as face up to our deficiencies.

For me, my primary Truth Moment as a bassist happened when I was in the New World Symphony. I was doing very well in New World, playing principal and doing lots of chamber music. I had good friends and was having fun. But I was not doing well in professional orchestral auditions. In audition after audition, I was not making it past the first round. At a certain point, I realized some hard truths:

- There was something about doing well in auditions that I didn’t yet really know or understand.
- Some of this thing had to do with technical problems I had as a player. My teachers had told me about these problems, but I had never fully dealt with them, and my abilities were strong enough that I had made it to New World anyway. But without fixing these problems, I probably wouldn’t succeed in professional auditions.
- I wasn’t able to fully figure out how to fix these things on my own, or with the help of my NWS colleagues.
- There was no point in staying in NWS, no matter how much I was enjoying it or how well it was going, if it wasn’t giving me the tools I needed to achieve my ultimate goal.

So, I applied for and was admitted to Hal Robinson’s studio at Peabody, where I felt I would be able to grow and improve effectively (and I did!). This was not easy for me: I was musically very inspired at New World, plus I had somewhere to live and received a small but very regular paycheck. But I had to give those things up if I was going to succeed professionally.

A student of mine recently had a major Truth Moment, and watching them go through the experience reminded me of my own history. There are very few musicians who can achieve their personal bests without having to confront a moment like this; in fact, most of us have a series of these moments over the course of our lives.

So, let me know: Have you had your Truth Moment yet?


Anonymous said...
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Matt Heller said...

I definitely recall some self-flagellating epiphanies after failed auditions - "I need to practice 8 hours a day! and play nothing but excerpts! and sing the Beethoven 9 recitatives in the shower every morning!" Sometimes they can develop into real insights, usually they're just a post-audition stress disorder symptom.

Much more valuable are the insights offered by a no-nonsense, knowledgeable teacher like Hal. For me every lesson with Hal was something of a 'truth moment,' which is why I dreaded them but eventually came to respect him so much. I wasn't always ready to hear what he had to say; but so much of what he said has stuck with me long afterwards, and given me fodder for the times when I could stomach a moment of (T)ruth.