The Future, the Past, and the Present

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Over the past year I have taken the bold step and started reading more non music books in an attempt to get back out there and explore the rest of life. I had long preached about time away from music, but had always been dreadfully bad at taking my own advice. I admit I have taken baby steps toward this goal. I have created a rotation of music book, philosophy book, and some other subject I am fascinated with (lately it has been two additional subjects: the Civil War, and religions.) In the philosophy area, the readings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Marcus Aurelius, the Dalai Lama, and Epictetus have been recent choices. They have made me think more about the future, the past, and the present, and how we as band directors (and people in general) are either handcuffed or freed by each of these measurements of time. I placed them is this order for a reason that I hope will become more obvious as we go.

The Future

Everyone looks ahead. It has become more important in “life” to look forward to the next thing, the next job, the next concert, the next rehearsal, and the next note or phrase. We tend to base our current job on how to get that next and better job. Everything we do, day in and day out, is geared towards getting us that next, better gig. In music that happens far too often, to the detriment of our students. In rehearsal we are sometimes taught to always be ahead of the ensemble as conductors, and we should be thinking of what comes next. This is not to say we shouldn’t focus on phrasing and overall music line. I am the first to hound students on being aware of where each note is going! But if we are so focused on what is coming next we are missing out on what is happening at the moment.

The Past

We should learn from our mistakes! We should spend some time reflecting on things in the past. We should go back over those adjudication sheets to learn from the past performance. And then we should move on and incorporate those lessons into our present situation. Mistakes happen and musical performance will never be perfect. As musicians we need to take those lessons and put them to our present situation, and then forget about the past situation. When a mistake happens learn from it and add that new knowledge to your present situation. In the heat of the moment, if you make a mistake and dwell on it, you are more than likely to compound that mistake. And while obsessing over one error, and making more in the process, you are missing out on the music that is happening, and the right notes you are also playing!

The Present

This is where you should be! In your current job, focus on the students in front of you. How can you make them better? Don’t focus on the mythical perfect student you will have at the next job. (Spoiler alert, you won’t!) And if you focus on the present moments with the ensemble in front of you, you may get that “better” job, if that is your goal in life. But you won’t be successful at it if you only think of the future ensemble, because as soon as you get that next ensemble, your future thinking mind will start-up again, looking to the next, better job and ensemble.

In a rehearsal focus on the sound that is right in front of you, happening at the moment it happens. If your mind is in the past or future, you will be missing out on the current musical activity, and won’t be able to hear right and wrong. Teach your students that they should be hearing the ensemble as the sound happens. Don’t let them go in to a passage knowing it will sound the same as the last rehearsal, or how it sounded in the rehearsal hall when you are on a stage. Teach your students, and yourself, to hear the room in the present, and to hear the sound as it happens, so that everyone can make the right adjustments in the present moment.

Dwelling on the past is bad on so many levels, and day dreaming about the future is great, when it has to do with a vacation, on a beach, with cocktails. Live in the present moment, and you might just learn to enjoy your situation in life a little more! And you might just learn to make better music too.

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