Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pride of workmanship

One thing my parents instilled in me through their own actions and the way they approached their lives was to have pride in what you do. This doesn’t necessarily mean t just o be proud of what you do, but perhaps more importantly, to bring pride of workmanship into anything you do. As the years roll on, I realize more and more how important that has become to me.

You cannot be any kind of musician if you don’t feel this way. You may give good performances, you may even occasionally give great performances, but it will always be by chance, not because of preparation. There aren’t many musicians worthy of the name who are satisfied with being “lucky”. Thanks to my mom and dad, I’m not one of those.

When I spent a lot of years teaching music in Ontario classrooms, I always wanted to give my best, and it wasn’t until after 24 years, when I felt I wasn’t able to give my best any longer, that I had to stop.

With writing, too, you cannot be good unless you have pride in craftsmanship and be willing to work and rework until your prose is the best it can possibly be. I always tell people I work with that “I’d rather be good than right.” What those words mean is that if something isn’t my best, if I haven’t done the job, I want to be called on it. I will always courteously listen to the criticism and thank the person for it. After careful thought, I may choose not to act on it, but I will always appreciate it. This is what I asked of my music teachers and my editors and they have always obliged – often dispiritingly so.

Whenever I finally hold a new book in my hand, I cannot tell you the sorrow I feel when I find those errors that always seem to creep in no matter how hard everyone involved has tried to get rid of them. I fell that I failed to get it completely right. But I also feel proud. Even if there are a few errors, I recognize that I tried my very best to make sure they weren’t there.

In music, especially classical music (where it is so noticable), being perfect is the ultimate goal. You cannot play only the notes and rhythms correctly, you must also play the phrasing, the dynamics, be in tune on every single note, play with the rest of the ensemble, play with understanding, passion and then try to make that pass from your instrument through the air to a listener’s ear – and make them understand what it is you are feeling. That is such an incredibly difficult task, nearly impossible. I have only played something perfectly (to my mind) three times in 54 years of making music, and one of those times was playing “Mary had a Little Lamb” on trumpet, demonstrating for a beginning band class.

I am often humbled in creating art. Everyone who attempts doing this is. We are only human, after all, but some of us have to strive for that elusive goal of perfection.

Why am I prattling on like this? Well, a good friend (thanks, Ellen!) sent me a YouTube link to a street performance, a flashmob. In watching and listening to it, tears began to fall. Why? Because the music is so beautiful, yet strong and powerful. The text speaks of hope, of joy, of peace. I know how to do what this group of musicians did and I was filled with pride at my own, fallible, musical ability. They played this glorious music of Beethoven with commitment and pride – and they affected me. They did their job. I also felt pride for them.

The back story to this last of symphonies by one of the world’s greatest musicians is that when he wrote it Beethoven was assailed by doubts. He was deaf. He was ill. The musical world in Vienna was whispering that the great man had lost it, become a “has-been”. The Ninth Symphony was his emphatic answer to all those doubters – and that included himself. It is arguably his greatest work, certainly his most famous.

Today, it is my pleasure and honour to share this great performance with all of you.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Rick this was astonishing. It made me cry. I don't understand. What is a "flashmob" Don't tell me these musicans coming out of nowhere kept joining in spontaneously. That's incredible.

Rick Blechta said...

Charlotte, below is a link to Wikipedia's article on flashmobs, etc. No, the musicians were all organized and rehearsed to do this. I believe it's actually a commercial for a bank, actually. Hopefully, the even paid the musicians for their time (and expertise).


Charlotte Hinger said...

After I posted, I googled and read about flashmobs. I thought that was the most astonishing I'd ever seen. Rehearsed or not, I wish I had been there.