Recently, I was talking with someone about my desire to become a professional boxer as a child. My father had a heavyweight prizefighter as a friend, and after watching him live, followed by hounding my parents for tickets to fights and going to a few more, I was hooked. I asked my parents time and time again if they could help me get into boxing, but it never happened. I couldn’t believe that my mother and father both said the same thing, “You are too smart of a kid to go into a ring and have your brain cells being knocked around.” That made me so angry! I probably don’t have to tell you that at ten years old, that didn’t sound like a compliment to my intelligence, but rather a statement of frank denial on their part to aid in my dream of becoming a professional fighter! Now that I’ve finished my first degree in music, I have been thinking that I may have been fighting this whole time anyway, but with music as my sparring partner.
Today, I am reaching out to all students (and parents) in this blog to give you my insight concerning something that private lessons often don’t have time for me to discuss. As a private instructor, I feel the need to explain my wish for students to approach studying music in such a way that your true talents may manifest not only as a result of simply being good students of music, but because of your desire for artistry to be your true guide. I am at a point in my life now where I have to make the choices that will largely shape the direction of my career in music. A statement about success vs. excellence from the great classical guitarist, Christopher Parking, comes to mind when people ask me what I do as a musician. Due to the fact that common conversations rarely allow for a discussion about anything past a certain level of depth, I feel that my answer to this question, “what do you do,” is limited. As a fan of brevity and conciseness, it doesn’t usually bother me to give an answer such as, “I perform, teach, and compose. Music is my day job.” However, when trying to plan the scope of what I intend to do in my career, I found that if my boxing match within music were advertised on a marquis, it would most truthfully read, “Musical Boxing! Success vs. Excellence.
Christopher Parkening’s thoughts on success vs. excellence in one of his method books made me ask myself, “What do the ideas of success and excellence in music mean to me?” This is the very question that shapes my day-to-day musical endeavors, and I am convinced that all students of music need to ask themselves this very question, especially those who want to experience music as a professional. Success, by most standards, is assumed to encapsulate three basic things: Achieving recognition within your field, being financially comfortable, and having the kind of life that you find to be one of quality. Excellence refers more to the result that is an accumulation of your efforts to thoroughly explore your craft. More specifically for the musician who wants to remain an artist and not a musical guinea pig that just does tricks to serve a purpose, your pursuit of excellence should have artistry as it’s number-one goal. This means that you should ask yourself, “What do I want to do as a musical artist, and how can my practice and study help me achieve my goals?” These are the questions that can help you judge each round of your own musical boxing match between success and excellence. I hope that you and your private instructor can help this fight turn into a “Draw” so that your experience with music may be both exciting and fruitful for many years.
Instructor Levi Henson