What Is Music Worth To You?
This past week at USC, the Southeastern Piano Festival took place. Twenty exceptionally talented young pianists came from around the U.S. to perform and take part in this competition. These are students who have already won many competitions, played in famous concert halls, or performed with orchestras…and they are 13-18 years old! It was a very busy week, but such an amazing opportunity to hear these young prodigies practice and see them perform!
The 20 pianists who applied and were accepted to the festival represent many more talented students across the country who participate in other festivals and dedicate copious hours to practice and preparation. It was so interesting to talk to the participants, and hear how long they have been taking lessons, how much they practice, etc. and it was fascinating (and sometimes funny) to hear their answers to questions people asked!
For example, here are some conversations I overheard between random concert attendees and the participants…
1) Q: (Random person to participant) “You must LOVE practicing, you play so well!”
A: (Random teenager participant) “Um…no. Actually, I don’t really like practicing at all! It’s so boring. But I do it anyways.” (The person who asked was very surprised!)
2) Q: “I’m sure you’ll grow up and be a professional concert pianist when you get older, right?”
A: “Maybe. I’m not sure. I really love math, so maybe I’ll be a math teacher and still play piano for fun.”
And my favorite question:
3) Q: “If you don’t want to be a concert pianist for a career, then why are you working so hard?”
A: “Well, I do work hard and practice a lot. But even if I just keep doing piano for fun, at least I’ll know that I tried my best.”
WOW! So, that particular pianist (about 14-15 yrs. old) who just performed really difficult music in a competition, and practices hours every day, might not even make a career out of being a pianist?! That sounds crazy – to devote all that time, energy (and his parents’ money) into lessons and competitions, when he might not do it forever!
But when you compare that level of dedication to other hobbies, it doesn’t sound so crazy. I have some students who are very devoted gamers; they know exactly when a new video game is coming out, wait in line to purchase it, then compete with other gamers to accomplish all the levels in record time. They spend hours working out strategies to win the games and beat other players. While I’m not advocating spending hours glued to a screen, playing a game to beat and obliterate green blobs, the same principle still applies. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
Maybe music is a hobby for you – something your parents wanted you to learn, a cool thing your friends are doing, or a skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Whatever the case, take this as a motivation: don’t look at it simply as a “hobby,” as a time-filler until you can do other things. Music is an investment of time, resources, and energy – use it efficiently. Apply yourself 100% to practice, to being attentive in lessons, and to giving it your best effort. Even if music is “just a hobby” for you now, and you have no plans to use it later, do the very best you can. You never know how you might use the skills later, or perhaps just play your instrument for personal enjoyment. Music is timeless and it is the truest art: your music is what you make it. If you treat it as a hobby but don’t practice diligently or apply concentration, it will only ever be that. If you treat it as a hobby, but work the best you can to improve your skills and take advantage of performing opportunities, it might surprise you.
In the end, music is truly an art for enjoyment. Enjoy your music, but apply yourself and do it 100%!