At the conclusion of last Saturday's Piano Prodigies recital, I took the opportunity to address the performers and their parents (and the rest of the audience) with a few thoughts that had come to me during the recital. Certainly, I wanted to acknowledge that we just enjoyed a program of beautiful music. But we witnessed more than music - the recital was a reflection of the time and work that every member of the team (students, parents, teacher) has put in, and a milestone along the path of growth that each of the students embarked on when they signed up for lessons weeks, months, or years ago. Thus, I began with a statement that may have shocked a few folks in the audience (particularly the over-achievers!):
"Congratulations to all the performers... and especially the ones who did not have a perfect performance today!"
Before I even had a chance to explain what I meant, students' hands shot up and they enthusiastically volunteered to interpret why I made this statement.
"Because we kept going!"
"Because making a mistake helps us remember we have more to learn!"
"Because hard work is more important than talent."
Wow. Pretty cool. Pretty deep. And... they do actually hear what I tell them in lessons!
Earlier this summer, while speaking at The International Music Institute and Festival USA I joked that I frequently have headaches at my students' recitals. After the laughter died down, I explained: it's not because of their playing but because of the intense desire I feel for them to have a great performance. The hope for a positive experience. And if (when) they stumble, every part of me wants to come to the rescue and help them: I silently shout "F-sharp!" as they search for the note that eludes them. I consider whispering that they can start over. But I sit there, and wait. And they always find their way through. Sometimes, later, there are tears. I console, I praise, I ask parents to celebrate the effort. And we work towards the next recital, and (always) it's better than the last.
Performing isn't easy. Doing anything that puts you "out there" isn't easy. The risk of falling is real.
I liken it to my handstand practice. I keep trying. Sometimes it's better, sometimes worse. I fall a lot. A LOT. But I won't get better if I don't keep practicing, and give it my best attempt every chance I got.
You can learn a lot from falling, and from "catching yourself." And you can smile through the process. These are some hidden benefits of music lessons that are important skills for for life (and yoga!). When the going gets tough, and every part of you wants to run away or stop... you CAN stick through it and persevere. Acknowledge the feelings of frustration, panic, fear... but keep breathing, keep playing, and then go on and try again.
I took a moment to ask the parents why they enroll their children in lessons. I asked for a show of hands, "Who signed their child up for lessons so that he/she would become a professional pianist?"No hands went up (That's exactly what I anticipated, though I assume that they aren't opposed to the idea!). They volunteered a few great responses:
"Because I didn't have the opportunity myself."
"Because I want him/her to have an expressive outlet."
"Because I want him/her to benefit from the character growth that music lessons foster."
When folks compliment me after a performance by saying, "you're so talented!" I thank them humbly (knowing that they mean well) but sometimes am tempted to mention that they are, too... and that no successful pianist (or musician, or master of any skill) learns through talent. It takes work, it takes falling, it takes passion, and it takes perseverance.
Congratulations to all those who make mistakes and who come out stronger.
Work > Talent.
Elizabeth Borowsky is a pianist, teacher, and composer. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano (Music Teachers National Association).