Learning by doing.

Categories:  Inspiration, Life, Memories, Motivation, Music, Public Performance

About fifteen years ago, driven by a mix of whimsy and ambition, I turned myself into a jazz pianist. I was already an adult with a full-blown career in journalism, but somehow, through sheer will and focused study, I created a second vocation for myself in music.

Already in my 30s, I was experiencing a dream-come-true just to land some private parties and wedding gigs.

I recall my father’s strange response when I told him my imminent plan to form a trio and start playing and singing standards at a local restaurant. “But how are you going to do that?” he said, with genuine surprise and thinly veiled fear. “You’ve never done it before!”

It was probably the most honest and unguarded thing my father has ever said to me. In those two short sentences, he revealed so much about himself and the depth of his insecurities. His response also made me understand why I’d been holding back from my own dreams. It was a habit I must have learned in childhood: avoiding the new and the different and the possibly difficult. Easier to dream and not do, of course, than to try and fail….

Since then, I’d outgrown my father’s self-limiting point of view. In some quiet, tentative, yet stubborn place inside myself, I come to believe I could do anything I put my mind to. I was lucky to have some talent, of course. In music I was a quick study, and I was focused and motivated at 30 in a way that I couldn’t have been at 15 or 20.

Talent only gets you started, though. You learn to be a musician by playing music publicly. You learn to be a good musician by being in terrible bands with mediocre players, and eventually graduating to better bands with stronger players.

My first paying gig was with children, literally–a sixteen-year-old prodigy saxophonist and his teenaged friends. I thought we sucked. The audience thought we were wonderful. In that huge gap between my timid self-perception and the generous, enthusiastic view of other people (people who would never dream of getting up on stage to play an instrument or sing a song) I saw reality for what it is. A chance to get a little better, each day and each moment.