Firstly, a film recommendation: “Whiplash” a psychological horror movie of pedagogy, still in theaters. Imagine that Mr. Holland went demonic and taught jazz and you’ve got the idea. It’s the story of a young jazz drummer who is taken in by this teacher and has a journey of madness, music and obsession.
The film made me think about the nature of discipline, especially in music. There are scenes where the kid practices so much his hands bleed, where the students compete for a solo for hours upon hours; the same lick that can never be fast enough. I usually love montages like this – especially in sports movies. Invariably the blood, sweat, and tears result in victory.
But art isn’t a prize fight and there’s no finish line. Creativity involves more than just rigor. Back to athletics – I remember in my first years in New York being inspired by the work ethic and dedication of endurance cyclists, and decided to borrow my approach to music from them. I’d warm up, practice and sing constantly, and went right into rehearsals for a very taxing opera (sadly, I forgot the steroids which were most certainly helping the guys on the bikes). I almost won myself some vocal nodules and had to spend the rest of the summer silent. The lesson is that you don’t always need to be making your own noise to develop, and there’s a point where you can have too much of a good thing, even hard work.
I think the most inspired art, be it music, painting, dance or literature, comes from those who listen best – listen to their collaborators, listen to the muses, listen to their inner voice. The thing is, it’s awfully hard to listen when you’re doing all the time.
Sometimes, just opening your ears, and sometimes, just making yourself a better channel by developing yourself aside from your art can be as essential to becoming a better as digging in and working hard. But don’t get me wrong, the film about the other approach was certainly more entertaining!
Thoughts? I’m interested in your practice, whatever art you pursue, and especially insights from teachers…