Where was I?
Lots of papers written. Lots of reheasals and performances conducted. Lots of interviews wearing the same outfit (so I wouldn’t accidentally wear the same outfit for both a 1st and 2nd interview for any given job). One teaching job landed. Then a art-time conducting gig landed. Then a fill-in church gig landed.
That makes for a mighty busy October, and I couldn’t be more excited.
The grass may always be greener, but I’m enjoying the grass I’m walking on.
I get to teach high school and middle school students to sing and enjoy music they would have never thought about checking out. I get to sing with and conduct a group of about 100 men, many of whom have been singing together for decades. Essentially, I get to do exactly what I want to do and what I’ve been working towards being able to do.
How did I get to be so lucky?
By not relying on luck.
I’ve never thought of myself as the most talented. I’ve always been aware of my limitations. And that is part of what has made it possible for me to grow – as a musician, as an intellectual, as a husband, as a father, as a person. As I tell my students, if you don’t recognize the mistakes you are making, you can never fix them. I pride myself on constantly surveying my own work – as a performer, as a teacher, as a writer – and searching out the mistakes and issues that I can address and improve on. Also, all of the work you put into everything you do, shows through in everything you do.
When I stepped in front of the University Chorus and Oakland Chorale this past spring and conducted a full concert, filling in for my ailing mentor, all of the work I had done in studying music history, theory, diction, repertoire, and interpretation combined with my specific focus on conducting to ensure the performance went well. It wasn’t just my conducting study that made my conducting clear and understandable to the choirs I conducted. It was every bit of reading, listening, singing, playing, and discussing (even unrelated to my specific field of music, much less choral conducting) that informed my understanding of the human condition and allowed me to confidently participate in the multi-layered and multi-directional mass communication that is a musical performance.
As Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”
What exactly does that mean? That is a good question. And worth asking again after the answer is already found.
The last phrase of that quote is the kicker and the one that is easy to misunderstand. I take Lenny’s words to mean that, no matter how much time you have available, if you allow yourself to believe it is enough time, then you are not holding yourself to as high a standard as you could. You may have rehearsed for 6 months to prepare for a given performance, but even in the last moments of the final dress rehearsal, there is still more to be done to prepare to create greatness. There isn’t an easily calculable amount of time needed to create greatness, and Lenny wasn’t suggesting that we complete an equation and then subtract just a bit of time from our scheduled preparation. He was suggesting that greatness is a pursuit without end. The only way to achieve greatness is if you aim for something beyond it.
It’s that old metaphor of trying to jump across a chasm of some sort. You don’t aim to jump to just the edge of the other side. You put everything you have into jumping well past that edge, to be sure that you definitely make it completely across.