The 8-year-old juggling a soccer ball and the 48-year-old jogging by, with Japanese lessons ringing from her earbuds, have something fundamental in common: At some level, both are wondering whether their investment of time and effort is worth it.”
Benedict Carey, in “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Talent,” NY Times, 7/14/14.
Really? If this is true, both are wondering about the wrong thing. I suspect, however, that the 8-year-old is simply having fun. To imagine dazzling like Lionel Messi is also fun. (Depending on the season, as a boy I imagined pitching like Warren Spahn or quarterbacking like Bart Starr, or being like my father.)
How could imagining greatness ever not be “worth it?” With imagination comes discovery. Children experience this. Adults don’t seem to get it.
There is always value in “doing.” If I practice stroke rehabilitation only because I want to get to “Carnegie Hall,” I am missing the point.
I taught percussion at the college level for a number of years. Not once did I tell my students to practice so they might “get to Carnegie Hall.” I taught them to focus and problem solve so they would become better musicians. I also tried to help them develop thinking skills, tenacity, coordination, and character.
A few of these students stayed in music. Most went into other professions: technology, business, law, etc. All brought insights gleaned from music to their respective occupations. (See Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth’s thoughtful book Music and Cancer: A Prescription for Healing. Dr. Nagarseth and I studied with the same teacher at University of Wisconsin Madison.)
Certainly musical facility is essential for a successful career in music, but careers are built on many additional factors, including: imagination and creativity, sensitivity, social grace, ability to perform well under pressure, risk tolerance, health (both physical and emotional), tenacity, likeability, patience, luck, and more.
Constructive engagement takes discipline, organization, and imagination. This is a lesson I first digested through musical practice. When I thoughtfully engage (through writing, listening, drumming, moving, imagining, teaching, laughing), I move toward wholeness.
P.S. For what it’s worth, I did make to Carnegie Hall (but only because the ensembles with which I was performing happened to be booked there). Frankly, it took me a few minutes to remember the various performances, and I’m not sure I remember them all. At any rate, being there was far less important than the process undertaken to get there. Those concerts were moments in a life. Who I have become (the good and the bad) through thinking and doing represents life’s events distilled.