Don’t Just Follow The Money

Saturday night the Gal Pal and I (and Kris and Brian) went to a concert at Traditions Cafe in downtown Olympia. When we go out, we go all out, which means some grub beforehand. Traditions concert tickets are $15. I counted about 40 peeps tucked into the small cafe. So I started to do the math because I’m always doing the math, can’t help it. Actually, MaggieZ does math, I do arithmetic. $600 divided between three musicians minus one-third to the cafe (guessing) equals $400 divided between three or $133/per. Don’t forget to factor in a few CD sales, but still less than $200/per.

And yet, all three musicians, Larry in particular, performed like it was a stadium concert with 40,000 people. His technical prowess as a guitar player and singer was impressive, but not nearly as much as the profound joy he had for sharing his gifts. The intrinsic genesis of his art was a beautiful, downright spiritual thing to observe.

And it got me thinking about whether I’d share my teaching gifts with the same committed passion if I only had a few students. And how I like to be well compensated for my time. And how I want to be more like Larry when I grow up.

Fast forward a few days to a story our local on-line paper ran on a local citizen who is doing a mindfulness workshop for local educators. Interested in mindfulness, I snooped around her website only to find a “shopping” section with bullshit mindfulness products. And her teacher workshop costs twenty Tradition’s concert tickets. I don’t begrudge her the right to run a profitable business or her desire to build wealth as a young person. Also, people pay decent money for yoga classes, but the overt commercialism and explicit selling of mindfulness, not only makes me want to run the other way, but likely turns off others who could benefit greatly from it.

Granted, it’s easier to take my advice to be like Larry and not just follow the money all the time, when you have some money. But whether you do or don’t have money, nonstop selling becomes habitual, meaning the extrinsic overwhelms the intrinsic until one’s work contributes very little to the greater good.

I’ve referenced two PressingPausers—Kris and MaggieZ—whose loyalty to the humble blog I greatly appreciate, but I’m thinking about a third who shall remain nameless because that’s the way he’d want it. Check out this other article from our same local on-line paper, “Puget Sound Honor Flight Recognizes Veterans One Flight At A Time”. When I first saw it, I immediately skimmed it for my friend’s name, but somehow he didn’t make it into the article. The fact that no one is watching him get up at 4 a.m. to drive to Sea-Tac Airport monthly, or watching him sometimes accompany local veterans on the actual flights, or watching him attend board meetings, makes all those activities much more meaningful.

Larry didn’t need much if any money. All he needed was a small group of people to share with. Same with our esteemed, third PressingPauser. All he needs is an appreciative veteran or two to share with.

 

 

 

The Musician’s Soul

I’m participating in a faculty seminar with eight other professors, each from different disciplines. We get together every other week and take turns discussing books everyone has selected from their respective disciplines. This Wednesday a music prof is leading the discussion of The Musician’s Soul by James Jordan.

Like a student, I have been procrastinating. That means I just started reading it today, Sunday*. Three days and counting. Even though I’m in the early stages, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, I’m digging it. Double J is wonderfully out of touch with the times. Instead of privileging standardization, data, and efficiency, he writes of self understanding, spirituality, and soulfulness. He’s more Buddhist than business school.

For a little flavor flav, here he is on self-expression:

“If one believes that music is self-expression, then it should follow that one must have a self to express. Before one is able to conduct and evoke artistry from singers, one must spend a considerable amount of time on oneself, on one’s inside stuff. One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times. Most musicians, however, involve themselves in a process of self-mutilation. They focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of music instead of the ‘who’. Frustration and anger with self occur, almost unknowingly. The conductor, music educator, or performer must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and of his or her own human spirit. That journey must be non-self-mutilating. At the risk of oversimplifying, one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with an ensemble or an audience through the music. Knowledge and trust of self is necessary for music making to take place. An ability to ‘just be’ is paramount.”

These insights are wonderfully applicable. Substitute any art, like writing, for the making of music. Or almost any vocation imaginable.

My subconscious is just starting to work on a new course I’m teaching next spring for teachers training to be school principals. While I’m reading Jordan I’m substituting school leaders for musicians. “The school leader must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and his or her own human spirit. . . . one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with a faculty, or families, or students through schooling.”

This portion of the larger excerpt deserves further reflection, “One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times.” Sounds more simple than it is. Most everyone has long-standing negative tapes looping in their heads thanks to mean-spirited teachers, parents, or coaches.

Do you know, accept, and trust yourself? How might your vocation and life change as a result of greater knowledge, acceptance, and trust?

* Had to finish The Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh first.

On Talent and Effortless Style

Fascinating essay last week by Don Van Natta, Jr. on the 1973 Billy Jean King-Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match that 50 million Americans and I watched on television. I was eleven and still remember it.

Riggs was a masterful hustler who “stayed in the barn” early in high stakes tennis and golf matches, meaning he purposely played well below his potential to lure his opponent and other bettors into a false sense of accomplishment. Then, mid to late match, Riggs would “come out of the barn,” play as well as possible and ultimately win. The art was in the timing.

The most talented, compelling artists almost always appear to be at least partly in the barn. As if they always have another gear or two in reserve. That’s what makes their performances so compelling. My first memory of this phenomenon was probably around the “Battle of the Sexes” when I was awestruck by a televised Dionne Warwick performance. She seemed to be expending about a third of her energy. Here’s just one example from the video archives:

When My Betrothed dances, she’s partly in the barn. And when watching my friend Brian ride his bike, with his rhythmic high cadence, perfectly still body, and oh so steady pace, I think, “Damn, if only it were that easy.”

Lake Center Dive is an immensely talented and stylish, up-and-coming foursome that conveys that “partly in the barn” feeling big time. Dig these examples:

Of course, an individual or group can only make something look effortless when they combine natural talent, intense commitment, and serious preparation.

My Betrothed, Brian, and Lake Center Dive owe people like me, who try to compensate for a lack of talent through extra effort, with a huge debt of gratitude. The rough edges of our extra effort is what makes the truly talented appear so stylish in comparison.

Excellence

Two events recently made me think about excellence, what it entails and how to cultivate it. Event one was Olympia High’s final orchestra concert of the school year. I’m always blown away by their individual and collective musicianship. Event two was Sunday’s Pre(fontaine) Classic track meet in Track Town, USA, Eugene, OR. In the mile, 12 people went sub 4, an American woman ran 3:59.9 in the 1500; a shot putter went over 71 feet; a long jumper 28’8″; the 100m winner, 9.94; and on and on. 

One thing musical and athletic excellence entail is beauty. There’s something mesmerizing about watching a gifted musician embrace and bring a piece alive just as there’s something almost mystical about watching an elite middle distance East African runner pull away in the last 400 meters.

Often there’s a knowledgeable, committed, demanding coach eliciting excellent performance. Chip Schooler, the Olympia High orchestra conductor is a case in point. I don’t want to put him on a pedestal even though he does stand on one, but those students are privileged to get to work with him day in and day out.

There also has to be an intrinsic love of the activity that translates into dedication to repetitive practice. Then there’s very careful preparation for the excellent performance. One of my favorite parts of the meet was watching the pole vaulters warm up an hour before their event started. Running drills, spraying the handle of their poles, taking practice runs and flopping into the mat, stretching, hydrating, narrowing their focus.

In excellence versus equity debates, I typically advocate for equity, but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive all the time. Maybe I’ve slighted excellence out of fear that it too often produces elitism.