Their expectant hearts beating almost out of their chests; they stare at me from the piano bench. Their little brains wonder and worry about the almighty sticker. Hoping their hard work on Boogie-Woogie Goose or Indian Dance paid off this week. I try to give a few notes. Make sure to count here. Play more legato there. I try infusing musical tidbits before the grumbling starts. Finally I give in, “Good work! Give yourself a sticker!” They let out a sigh and scramble to affix a multi-colored winged-hamster to their music as a sign of achievement.
I know they absorbed about half of the notes I gave them and the rest we have time to work on during the rest of the lesson. But, I wonder if I stopped giving out stickers would my students still understand success? If children do not get stickers often enough, they drop out. If students do not get good grades, they get discouraged. If singers do not get enough praise, they get misguided and resentful. Then, I think, what valuable tidbits do I forgo in favor of the ego-boost?
Self-improvement drives my personal motivation. Motivation does not rely solely on reward. Nor does it rely on the action or inaction of someone else. Practicing self-improvement and helping others is the key to success. This is a difficult concept to prove to my piano students. However, I realized that the fleeting ego-boost is far less rewarding than overcoming professional challenges.
I am firmly entrenched in the “You Make Your Own Future” camp. Based on that belief, I launched the Federal Hill Parlor Series (FHPS) in July 2010. It gives me the opportunity to work with businesses, producers, and musicians that have been right around the corner the whole time. It is very gratifying to feature other musicians as well. I enjoy furthering their exposure to different audiences and fostering better relationships with my colleagues in the community. FHPS also allows room for continual self-improvement because its true value is in the long-term arc of the project.
Many diverse challenges arise while running your own music series. Graduate school provided the tools for analyzing music, working on technique, and sending out a press packet or two. But, they did not cover the importance of networking. We also did not cover the fundamentals of fundraising. Realistically, not very many schools are giving tips on inventive programming, either. FHPS presents many variables for self-improvement that will all contribute to a well-rounded singing career.
Our most recent open house featured a composer and electronic-musician friend of mine, Erik Spangler (DJ Dubble8.)
We collaborated on a set for classical voice and turntables. I had brainstormed possible programs, many months ago, and this one really lodged in my imagination. I started to call around trying to find anyone with experience in this type of collaboration and came up with nada. So, I went to Erik and said, “I know that people are doing this. I know it is out there. I want to do it. We’ll figure it out as we go along.”
Erik, being a saint of imagination and possibility, said yes. We decided to use George Crumb’s song cycle “A Journey Beyond Time” as our foundation. Crumb set African-American spirituals for voice and percussion ensemble and the style seemed to align with the type of music Erik composes. I felt very strongly about using accessible melodies and texts to ease the audience into a very conceptual concert.
The night of the open house, the room was in no way “packed.” But, it was full of energy and vitality. The people there were interested in supporting a new (at least to them) idea. They were interested in having an experience. And, they wanted to take part in the “long-term arc of the project.” In fact, it was a very successful evening. Check the website soon for some sound clips and photos. More so, it was successful not because of any accolades but because I set a professional goal and achieved it.
Think about your own musical career for a moment. Do you recognize the times when you were motivated by “the sticker”? Have you ever given up on a project because you didn’t receive any immediate gratification? Then, think about the times that self-improvement and helping others motivated you. Tell me about those experiences in the comments below.
- Bang on a Can presents music of George Crumb @ Mass MoCA 7/24/10 (timesunion.com)
- You: Music review: A George Crumb Green Umbrella (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
I love this post, in no short part because I still treasure my very first flute book that’s filled with stickers. I still occasionally touch the fuzzy ones and remember how they made me feel – that I had really accomplished something. I don’t know at what age children learn about symbols, but I was 10 when I started flute and, while I really loved stickers because we traded them in school, they also represented the hard work I had put into perfecting those exercises (back when I really worked hard… oy).
These days, I think it’s a mixture of both ego-boosts and the more mature job-well-done. Even if you can separate your success as a performer with your own self-esteem, there’s still the aspect that your success as a performer is a reflection of your abilities as a networker/social being. Since I’m severely lacking in those areas, the more my success relies on networking, the more I find myself needing those sticker moments. I’m also not especially good at long-term projects, so it’s sometimes necessary for me to find those stickers along the way but I have to be the one to make them special — like congratulating myself for even sending an email that moves the project along. It feels pretty pathetic as I write it; I really admire the person who can do it all for personal achievement. I bet that, if my career was going better, I could say it was all motivated by personal achievement — but since that’s not true, I can pretty safely say that I could use a fuzzy kitten sticker right now, figuratively or literally speaking.
I agree wholeheartedly that sticker moments are important (otherwise, they wouldn’t be so effective with my piano students.) Plus, who doesn’t want a fuzzy kitten sticker right now? Sticker moments help me sustain motivation and action.
I think that you make a good point in your comment. Everyone has different “needs improvement” areas. It is important that we recognize those variables and provide our own stickers. When the path gets difficult, look back at those stickers and connect the dots. Then, you’ll be able to start looking at the arc of your personal achievement. That should be one heck of a fuzzy kitten sticker, in your case.
Music School says
Quote of the day : Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music. – Jimi Hendrix –