So many things can happen in life, each one molding and shaping the life and the person.
When I think back on the things that shaped who I have become I can rarely find an example of a time when I KNEW that my life was changed in that moment.
It wasn’t always a person that changed my life. I remember a few powerful moments or experiences from my childhood that sparked an interest in me. Maybe they just awakened a part of myself that I didn’t know. I remember them vividly as if a cherished long-lost friend.
-The Japanese drumming at rice festivals and lantern festivals
-The Japanese folk songs, especially Sakura which could easily bring tears to my eyes
-music class and my amazement listening to In the Hall of the Mountain King as I realized that my reaction to music was different than most kids’
-band “instrument day” and the sounds of things I loved and things I didn’t. Hahahaha
-the sounds of Bartok and Janacek on an old LP I bought for 25cents at a garage sale
Music spoke to me and brought out emotion and creativity.
I had an interest and an appreciation for sounds and music but I don’t know that I felt anything about who I was or what I wanted to do in life from these experiences. What helped me to discover these things are the people who crossed my path.
One such person was my middle school band director. Not the horrible one that yelled at children and spewed of bigotry and hate. The other one who saw children as learning, little humans and who charged herself with providing the tools for learning, success, motivation, confidence.
She recognized our strengths both individually and as a team. She had a way of challenging us all and recognizing our work. She felt joy from our joy and struggled with us when called upon. She believed in the children she taught and as a result we all loved her.
I wanted to be her. She was one of my idols, one of fairness, servitude, encouragement, high expectations, and determination. I did everything she told me because I TRUSTED her words.
What would have become of me had this person not been thrown into my path? Definitely not the life I live today.
Then she encouraged me to play a solo for contest and I met the other “one” in my life. The most amazing mentor and idol of my formative years: my private lesson teacher. She had a wealth of information, help, corrections, rules, expectations, and demands but most importantly, she had a “tip jar.”
I make a point of telling my students the story of the tip jar because I honestly feel that this is what helped me to become a professional musician. Once she told me, “Your twenty dollars pays me to teach you. It does not pay me to listen to wrong notes. If you’re going to play a wrong note in your scales and patterns, you’re going to have to throw a nickel in the tip jar.”
Well, I didn’t really get any form of allowance because my parents paid for my lessons. I had to actually WORK to pay for wrong notes. You can guess that wrong notes didn’t happen often after that.
You’ve all been told the importance and value of scales. In less than two years as a beginner, this person had put me through octave scales, 2 octave scales, 3 octave scales, 36 minor scales, chromatic scales, whole tone scales, Albert book, Klose book, Stievenard book, and beginning the Baermann. (She wasn’t messing around. Hahaha.) But I loved it and I loved her. She gave me a dream and the tools to reach them.
You see, she had already told me how to practice. Small groups of notes, slowly, repetition, add on, slowly, repetition, etc. She had told me to practice method daily and never skip and that the scales would become automatic. I just needed to listen.
And I did. Not because of the tip jar (although that did spur me forward pretty quickly) but because I loved her. I respected her. I thought she was amazing. I wanted to be her. She was the most amazing musician I had ever heard. Twenty five years later I can still hear her voice, both the clarinet voice and the actual voice. They guide me to this very day.
There are many roads to take in life and many people that you will pass along the way. As a musician I try to look for other musicians who inspire me to be the best musician I can be.
I’ve always jokingly said (with great earnest) that I want to be in the finest ensemble you can imagine and be the weakest link in the room. I truly feel this way… Not because I want to bring them down but because I want them to grab me and pull me along until I can keep up and blend in and learn to be a better musician, teacher, leader, person…
If you are a musician and you don’t have a mentor or an idol, it’s time to find one. Make it happen. Find the next person who will help you discover who you are and what you want to do with your life.
Just don’t forget along the way that someone you pass by today might be the kid whose life you have the power to change.