Here is a little anecdote that I shared on my violin site blog awhile back. My wife, who is also a fine musician, and I were watching a little piece on TV about famous, French-Chinese classical cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. This was a couple years ago when he had just completed a bluegrass album with some of the greatest bluegrass musicians in the world. You can imagine that switching over to play bluegrass was quite a genre bender for him but the music was interesting and enjoyable. In an interview, he waxed on enthusiastically about how much fun it was to work with these musicians and how nice they were to him personally. My wife and I both had to laugh. I think I turned to her and said, “that’s because they were bluegrass musicians.”
Now don’t jump into a concussion. I love classical music and I have the greatest respect for fine classical players. But let’s be honest – whether it is in performance, rehearsal, the classroom or adjudication, things can get a little intense at times. No matter how much you respect the repertoire, your fellow musician and your teacher or conductor the oxygen can get sucked out of the room pretty fast especially if things are less than perfect and the pressure is mounting. This is not only true for classical music but also in other musical genres as well where performance is tightly scrutinized and the heat is turned up. Things can get feisty in a jazz ensemble or a high powered recording session for popular music where money, prestige or reputation are on the line. A recent movie titled Whiplash explores the relationship between a serious student jazz drummer and a tyrannical teacher who will tolerate nothing less than perfection.
My question is this: is it okay to have fun sometimes with the music? I love the great violinist Sarah Chang. She is as serious a player as anyone and an absolute maestro but I’ve seen her look up at the conductor in performance and smile as if to say, “this is going well and I am having fun.” Now, I am not saying that we should wear a big goofy smile while we are playing something heavy by Beethoven, Bach or Schubert. I do think that we should have a sense of joy and wonder even when we are playing great music. I think that this is especially true when young people are involved or being instructed. The younger the player the more enthusiastic and encouraging we need to be, whether we are a teacher, conductor or parent. I believe that music was created by God to lighten or lift the heart of men and women. So practice hard and play well, but lighten up a little and have some fun. If someone is a little better than you don’t envy them. If they are not quite up to your level cut them some slack. We are, after all, only human and we are only here on planet Earth for a short time so let’s enjoy the ride.