Getting better – Few magic wands or silver bullets. A couple of steps forward, one back at best. It’s challenging to select when to move forward and when to wait. Does inching forward on many fronts get you better faster than moving a foot on fewer fronts? Does doing less better make sense? I play in a big band learning many charts that stretch my reading skills and dexterity. I also play in a student combo stretching my music theory and improvisation skills. I can squeak out 1 to 3 hours practice time a week. Not enough, I think, to really improve at anything. I feel so stretched I’ve stopped taking lessons. So I’m getting better too slowly for my satisfaction. On the other hand when Pablo Casals, maybe the best cellist ever, interviewed at 92 years old, he said he couldn’t talk more because he had to go practice. “Practice?” the interviewer said, “but you’re the best ever.” Casals quipped, “I’ve almost gotten it right.” I decided to stop playing in the big band and focus on the combo. I’d rather learn more music theory and improvise better. I’ll also resume the lessons. I only have so much gas in my tank. The stress of feeling overwhelmed – too many fronts – consumes fuel. Maybe doing less better with less stress burns less fuel.
The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. This means try stuff. Follow the advice of your team or don’t – follow your nose. But try stuff to feel better.
Yesterday I played in a recital with my jazz combo-dedicated amateurs. Musically we have greatly improved. The devil is in the arranging. Who plays when and where, in what order. Trying to get it right one player sent an email to everyone with the arrangements. We rehearsed one last time in the morning, making a few changes. He sent the revised arrangements out just before the gig. I printed and didn’t review. One tune was a complete disaster. The changes were not what we agreed to, I was the only one that printed the changes. I noticed the discrepancy in the middle of the tune and chose to play as written, not as I remembered what we agreed to. I messed everyone up, the tune fell apart. Disappointment, irritability.
I play saxophone in a combo – I’m the only horn. I come in with the melody – after we’ve improvised – with authority and confidence. My teacher tells me, “come in strong whether or not you’re right. The band will adjust. Better than hesitating and coming in weak.”
I thought about this when I was in a meeting the other day with a labor lawyer and benefits consultant. They both sounded authoritative and confident – and had opposite opinions. I spent as much time watching the strength of their presentation as thinking about whether their advice was right for the agency.
I recall that my 17-year-old cousin recently expounded about the biology of memory with authority and confidence: “You sure speak with authority and confidence,” I noted. “Sure,” he said with a proud smile, “I’m on the debate team!”
Authority and confidence and being right – not necessarily connected.
As a nurse I watch the expression of authority and confidence often from professionals and see how it affects people at the center of care and their caregivers. It’s hard to separate strength from right. One of the reasons I’ve chosen my doctors is that they can sound authoritative and confident, but they engage me in the question of what’s right for me.
A wise person once advised me, “when someone speaks to you with force, either positive or negative, imagine blue smoke coming from their mouth. Let the blue smoke pass you by before you consider the words generating that smoke.” 🙂