I have been philosophising a lot recently and it might seem that I have a lot of answers or wisdom. That is far from the truth. I am often confused and frustrated and therefore I continually search for advice from others. When I find a useful piece of information, I try to pass it along for anyone willing to listen. So, that brings me to this topic: the winding road. It is a useful metaphor for any quest or goal. Progress will never be a straight line and if you envision it to be so, you can become very frustrated. For instance, I am trying to exercise and eat better. When I "fall off the wagon" and miss my time at the gym or indulge late at night in copious amounts of carbs, I cannot kick myself too hard. I will stumble on my way down the new path. I will get lost. But hopefully, I will arrive at my destination. We are all human (an overused phrase if there ever was one). So, allow yourself (myself) to take the winding road on the way to a better life.
Whether I have had a bad day or a bad gig, I try to remember to be realistic. Was the entire day a write-off or the entire performance poor? I can focus on the negative aspects of life at times. It is good to take a second and remind oneself of what was accomplished and enjoyed in the day. No matter how tough it gets, there is usually something positive that we can take away, but we may have forgot, e.g., a hug, breathing in deeply or a utopian state earlier in the day. It is too easy to give in to "the dark side" (at times). Look to the light (or whatever other metaphor you want to use) for your sake.
Black dirt is what you want to add to your lawn when adding new grass seed. Do not use top soil. It has weeds in it, and it will dry up and choke the new new grass. After reseeding your lawn each year, you need to be patient, as your work will not be rewarded right away. This is like anything in life: mastering an instrument, building a professional relationship with a university or starting up a website. Your progress can be excruciatingly slow. If you have had good advice and are on the right track, you must be patient and persistent. It is the only thing that will ensure a thick lawn or a successful career.
Stage presence needs to be addressed in jazz as it is often neglected. I recently witnessed a singer, when not in front of the band but still on stage, reading a newspaper and often see other instrumentalists checking their watches and cellar phones for messages and updated scores on games. Ridiculous. How is the audience supposed to take the music seriously when the musicians, by their actions and body language, indicate that they would rather be somewhere else. Sure, some gigs suck and many venues treat us like c@#% but until we treat ourselves with respect and acknowledge the musical efforts of the musicians around us, how can be expect the musical climate to change? So, bow after your solo and acknowledge the audience, smile once in a while, turn off your phone (better yet, keep it in your case) and actually listen to the other musicians when you are not playing. We chose this line of work so enjoy it. It is and should be enjoyable.
Sometimes I get so focused on the product or goal that I forget that I must enjoy the process and 99% of life is the process or the work. I chose music as a profession because I enjoyed "doing" it and helping others to understand it and to participate in the art. When I get preoccupied with how my solo sounded, how many courses I may teach in the fall, or when I might finish my composition, I have to give myself a slap and remind myself that life is really about the here-and-now: the performing, the teaching and the writing. Everything will fall into place in the future. It always has. If you cannot enjoy the present and are preoccupied with the future, what is the point? So, enjoy the journey.
Dr. Michael Kearns
Musician, educator, husband, father, web designer ... my life is like a mosaic with each piece vying for my attention.