There has been a lot in the news this week about American teachers being too nice, or not strict enough, with their students. Here are some thoughts of mine for conservatory and college music students. I hope they are helpful.
If I could say just one thing to young professional musicians it would be, “Never be satisfied with your performances.” Occasionally, when I ask my students how a concert of theirs has gone they will say, “Oh, it was good.” I find this statement a bit puzzling. Was the student simply commenting on their relief to have gotten through a performance? Certainly after a good amount of preparation and anxiety around a concert it could feel good to have gotten through it without an embarrassing mishap or being hit by rotten tomatoes from angry audience members. Certainly at school concerts there is a terrific amount of applause that let’s us feel very much appreciated. Not bad things at all, though I’ve noticed that the applause is often directly related to how many of the performer’s friends are in the audience and not necessarily related to how compelling the performance actually was.
Now, if you have truly done the best preparation you can and played your absolute best at a given point in your career you can be happy, and should be, that you have made progress. However, not making a mistake or bungling a technical passage, simply playing very fast or in tune does not make a performance of the music. As artists we must push ourselves to be the most expressive and intelligent players we can be.
And now to my point: don’t rely on your teachers, or friends, to tell you how much you can accomplish. You learn valuable skills and philosophies from your teachers, if you pay attention and work hard, but you must become your own judge and disciplinarian. As a musician you will be confronted by your own demons, your own shortcomings and frustrations on a daily basis. If you can tolerate the demands, the rewards are beyond measure. Your musical voice is up to you and your standards alone. Always strive to be better. Never be satisfied.