Sunday, October 31, 2010


 In some pieces of music (specifically those with a sonata-allegro structure), the themes from the beginning return later on after a time of "development".  This return is called the recapitulation, and it marks a very dramatic moment in the music.  It's similar to hearing a jazz piece in which the soloist introduces the melody, and then improvises for a while, going as far afield as he dares from that original tune.  When he returns to the melody again, it is a striking moment that (hopefully) ties all of his improvisatory development back to the foundation of the piece.  The same thing can happen in Indian ragas, and in fact many other musical styles.  The moment of return to the familiar is poignant.

But the music is never quite the same the second time around.  Even if it held the exact same notes, we would still hear the recapitulation differently than the first iteration of those themes.  The development that leads up to the moment of return fills our ears with many different possibilities, regardless of the style.  The music at that moment of return could be identical to what we heard before, but we are different.  We may be excited or satisfied when the music gets back to that familiar melody, even though we hear it through a filter of information we didn't have before. 

The development helps us to appreciate the original melodies more fully by wandering away from the full blown themes of a piece and using bits and pieces of those ideas for musical meandering.  The development can be exciting, but almost always has an unstable feeling.  To our ears, it's restless, in motion.  The return to the integrity of the initial themes of a piece feel like a destination after all of the development's instability.  The recapitulation seems stable.  Emotionally, it's a clear sense of arrival.

Life does that, too.  As I have been looking at applying for a college teaching position after a few years of development, I have a comfortable sense of familiarity, and yet I am different from the person I was the last time I lived this theme.  My path has certainly held direction and purpose, but there honestly has been some instability in pushing against my own perceived limitations.  Covering new ground is exciting, but it can also be frighteningly uncertain.  Returning to the idea of teaching music at a university not only has familiarity, though.  I have greater clarity about that theme because of the time in between.

Having taken the time to discern what has greatest value in my life, I can approach the familiar decision differently than I did in the final months of my doctorate degree.  I know now how much I love being in the classroom and teaching performers the keys to getting beyond the notes and creating engaging music.  I'm aware of how valuable it is to me to nurture my own creativity, and I have a greater appreciation for organizational dynamics.  Essentially, I guess I'm more mature than I was the first time I started applying for teaching positions, although I wasn't altogether immature before.  I've been through a development section, and sending out letters of application and a revised Curriculum Vitae feels like a recapitulation--an arrival point at someplace familiar I can now see in a new way.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How Selfish

When the flight attendants do the bit about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you, it has always been clear why they would need to tell me that so directly.  It's natural for me to put aside my own wants or needs for other people.  So if a situation demands that I take care of myself first, it seems like the exception.  I'm realizing how much more that could represent the norm, how satisfying it can be to focus my attention on my own personal vision.

In the past, I've written about my fear that, underneath it all, I'm a selfish person.  This fear has been with me for awhile, but over the last couple of years, I have focused more purposefully on ridding myself of it.  The problem has been that so much of what I am truly passionate about was taking a backseat to other noble endeavors, and to concentrate more fully on my own dreams and personal vision seemed selfish.  It's hard to get rid of a belief when one is regularly creating new evidence for it.  At the same time, I frequently allow my own goals to be less important than the goals of others, probably because I don't want to appear selfish to myself or anybody else.   

Not being selfish has been the underlying cause of many issues for me.  Most of the situations that I found dissatisfying as an adult have resulted from me working to improve the processes or culture of a place when my ideas were not universally valued.  Instead of focusing my efforts on what mattered most to me, I sublimated what I saw as selfish goals for the sake of a greater good.  I turned my creative abilities and strategic skill toward external organizations rather than using them for my own selfish endeavors, and in so doing, I created a no-win situation for myself.

Now, I believe that there is a difference between being selfish and being self-absorbed.  I believe that one can be both selfish and compassionate.  In fact, I believe that one must be selfish in order to see a personal vision through to fruition.  Creating a life with deep personal meaning often requires guarding time against distractions and choosing relationships that are supportive over those that are toxic.  One may call it self-awareness to soften the blow, but it has certainly felt like selfishness to me.  The truth is, there has never been anything wrong with being selfish, aside from my own personal judgment against myself.

The big lie was not that I am a selfish person.  The big lie is that it is wrong to be selfish.  If I focus on the things I most want in my life, I'll still be creating something that has a broader impact, but it won't be at the expense of my own satisfaction.  Giving myself permission to be selfish without imposing anything on anyone else is one of the most freeing things I have ever done.  I am still interested in being of service to other people, and I know that I will be.  But it makes sense to secure my own oxygen mask and breathe for myself before I help the people around me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Truth About Rejection

My wife picks over bananas each week in the supermarket, carefully selecting a couple that were still green, a couple that were solid bright yellow, and two with peels that are being overtaken with brown spots.  She knows that the bananas will ripen over the week, and she knows from experience what degree of ripeness she prefers.  So with her, bananas have an equal chance of being selected no matter what their degree of ripeness.  Entire piles of bananas still get rejected by her each week, but only because we can't possibly eat every banana in the store.  She doesn't think much about the feelings of the bananas that get left behind (or the ones she buys).

A friend recently purchased a new truck.  It looks a lot like his old truck, except that it's a little bit bigger and it has fewer miles on it.  Before he got to the dealership, he had already rejected many possibilities of cars, minivans, and SUVs.  He had some very good reasons for wanting a truck, and he wasn't concerned about how all those cars would feel when he didn't even give them a glance.  Somebody else will likely prefer a car over a truck and the cars will get their chance.

We make selections every day about things, which means we choose some ideas and reject others.  We absolutely have to reject some ideas, otherwise we would be paralyzed by the number of choices we have.  When it comes to food or cars or other purchased goods, it's easy for us to narrow down our options based on what we want.  When people get involved, rejection becomes a much more loaded issue.  People actually have feelings that we intrinsically care about, and we know from personal experience how many decisions we make every day out of fear of rejection.

Why do we hold acceptance in such high esteem?  Do we really believe that any person can be accepted by everyone?  Or do we care more about what it says about us when someone rejects us?  Something must be wrong with us if we get rejected, right?

But, wait a minute.  Nothing was really wrong with all of the bananas left for other shoppers at the grocery store; it was a simple matter of knowing how many we can eat in a week.  And nothing was really wrong with all of the vehicles my friend passed by to get to the truck he wanted; they just weren't what he wanted.  When we face rejection ourselves, it's really about someone else expressing a preference.  On the one hand, we would like to be "preferred" for a relationship or a job.  On the other hand, we wouldn't necessarily enjoy just any relationship or job.  We have our preferences, too.

I want the music I write to have broad appeal, but everybody isn't going to like it.  The key is for me to find the people that prefer what I compose and focus on partnership with those people.  It doesn't mean that I have been rejected as a human being just because my music wasn't chosen for a particular project, and it also doesn't mean I need to change what I am writing into something universally appealing.

The same is true as I continue to build my coaching practice.  If I try to be all things to all people, I will fall short.  I have areas of strength, and there are honestly some people I would prefer to work with.  By defining a niche, I focus my energy and my attention.  Choosing to focus on a certain group of people means setting myself up for rejection by people who are not part of that group.  When that happens, it will be an indication to me that I have defined a niche well, and hopefully the people who are a part of that focal group will be able to see that as an advantage for them.

Whether it's with the music I compose, the people I choose to coach, or the relationships I nurture, the key is to be honest about what I want in my life.  Some would call this authenticity.  When I am being true to myself, there are some people who love being a part of what I am creating, and there are many others who ... well, reject me.  That's alright.  It means that I have defined myself more clearly for anyone who sees me.  And when I'm being honest about who I am, and when I'm not afraid of rejection, being seen becomes a much easier thing to do.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Feeling the Rhythm

When expressed in their most simplistic iterations, astrological and biorhythm forecasts just seem silly to me.  Can it be that everyone born on the same day will really experience more or less the same life, with ups and downs coinciding in a lifetime of synchronicity?  The idea is hard for me to digest.  So I don't.  I typically think of it as a bit of fun and leave it at that. 

Someone was recently explaining a more in-depth astrological approach to me, and I began to see how the fortune-cookie blurbs in the morning paper don't do the practice justice.  When a full blown astrological reading is done, there is a lot more specific information taken into consideration than I ever realized.  Shortly after this conversation, I was reading about biorhythms. Once again, I learned that some people get much more involved than drawing a few simple sine waves and matching them up with dates. I still don't know that I believe one can make accurate predictions about another person's life, even with an elaborate system of forecasting. But it did get me thinking.

I create plans days, sometimes weeks, in advance. I know what I expect to be working on way ahead of time, even though I don't know how I'm going to feel or what other things may crop up. It's a flexible plan, by necessity, but I am not always flexible with myself. If I have planned to work on a brass ensemble piece next Tuesday, and then I wake up feeling rather uninspired, my typical response is to work on the brass ensemble piece anyway and just trust that inspiration will eventually be there.

My fear is that if I take a day off, or if I postpone something on the schedule, I'll never go back to it. I'll become a lazy underachiever with nothing to show for my all my creativity and experience. A bit drastic, eh? But that fear creates a demand that I must keep to my schedule, I must keep on track with my projects at all costs. I don't always like what I create out of that fear, but at least I stick to the plan.

The strange thing is, sometimes I do wind up taking a little time off. Sometimes I do get off track with my preconceived schedule. There are days that I just can't concentrate on the creative work, or I don't like anything that I'm creating, and I have always gone back to it later with renewed interest and inspiration. It's often just a matter of giving myself a little time to take a break and recharge.

I don't know if it has anything to do with when I was born or where the stars were at the time, but my life does have a rhythm. It may be a bit more complex than simple sine waves, but there is value in tuning in to what I'm feeling at any given time. Not only is it alright to allow myself to feel uninspired, it's the most honest thing to do some days. Giving myself permission to take a day off and trusting that I will come back to my creative projects refreshed is simply a way of recognizing the rhythm of my life. Forcing creativity can get the work done, but allowing it to flow naturally helps me to enjoy what I create.