She needed a scheduled break in the middle of her
recital to rest her embouchure (the formation of
the muscles in the mouth and lips, designed to
create pressure on the reed), so she asked if I
would perform something from my recital on her
program. I agreed to do so, thinking it
would also be good practice for me as I prepared
for my own recital two weeks later.
week before her recital, my voice teacher noticed
a flyer advertising my roommate’s recital
program, with my name included on her program.
That week when I entered my teacher’s studio for
my voice lesson, she pulled out a copy of my
roommate's flyer and informed me that I would
not be performing in her recital because
I was not ready. During the ensuing
rage-filled lecture that followed, my teacher
instructed me that I was never to perform
in public without her permission.
After all, her reputation was on the
line! She could not believe I had the
audacity to consider performing anywhere
in public without first getting her
permission to do so.
this most unpleasant outburst from my Prima Donna
voice teacher 28 years ago, I have great
appreciation for something that Ben Zander said:
“It is dangerous to have our musicians so obsessed
with competition because they will find it difficult
to take the necessary risks with themselves to be
great performers. The art of music, since it can
only be conveyed through its interpreters, depends
on expressive performance for its lifeblood. Yet
it is only when we make mistakes in performance that
we can really begin to notice what needs attention.”
You don’t have to be a musician to appreciate the
value of his wisdom.
actively trains his students to celebrate their
mistakes by lifting their arms in the air, smiling,
and saying, “How fascinating!” As I read
the book, I tried to imagine what it would have been
like as an 18-year-old performer if I had studied
with a teacher like Benjamin Zander.
may be wondering what happened after my voice
teacher ripped me to shreds. At the age of 18,
I did not have the backbone to stand up to a person
of such famed stature, so I did not perform
in my roommate’s recital. Just two weeks
later I performed the same piece in my own recital.
. . and my teacher was very pleased with my
performance. After completing my freshman
year, I transferred to Macalester College in
Minnesota, where I got a great liberal arts
education and studied with an outstanding and
affirming voice teacher for my remaining three
years. There I received encouragement and
support in an environment where it was safe to take
risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. Instead
of feeling defeated, I flourished.
Jung, the Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist who
founded analytic psychology, sums it up by saying
that "Criticism has the power to do
good when there is something that must be destroyed,
dissolved, or redirected, but it is capable only of
harm when there is something to be built."
suggests that mistakes and negative experiences can
become great opportunities for growth. He
tells the story about a tenor who came to him after
losing his girlfriend. He was in such despair
that he could hardly function. Zander was
secretly delighted, because he knew that this
heartbreak would enable the tenor to more fully
express the heart-rendering passion of Schubert’s Die
Winterreise (about the loss of a beloved).
Zander recalls, “That song
had completely eluded him the previous week because
up to then, the only object of affection he had ever
lost was a pet goldfish.”
The Art of Possibility, the Zanders share a
fundamental practice that is captured in the
catch-phrase, "it's all invented." It's
all a story you tell -- not just some of it, but all
of it. And every story you tell is founded on
a network of hidden assumptions.
explains, "We do not mean
that you can just make anything up and have it
magically appear. We mean that you can shift
the framework to one whose underlying assumptions
allow for the conditions you desire. Let your
thoughts and actions spring from the new framework
and see what happens."
a great example of the power of shifting your
framework and assumptions: A shoe factory
sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to
study the prospects for expanding business. One
sends back a telegram saying, "Situation
hopeless. No one wears shoes." The other writes
back triumphantly, "Glorious business
opportunity. They have no shoes!"
* * *
© Kathy Paauw. All Rights Reserved.
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