I made an important decision, and it came pretty late at age 27, to never to ask anyone for advice about my creative work ever again. “Feedback” is very popular these days. I don’t oppose it universally, but one needs to be careful. Responses are one thing, but advice about direction is another. Everyone has an opinion. I’ve had plenty. They’ve tended to shift. Hence I mistrust my own opinion, and even more so everyone else’s.
One of my piano teachers said that teaching is primarily a process of justifying your own instincts.
In spite of all this, I’ve come to freshly appreciate the importance of having a teacher. In spiritual communities the dynamic is surprisingly similar. One “practices,” and it is common to have a lifelong relationship with teachers, placing oneself within various lineages. While I distrust the idea of the guru, this is mostly because I think one needs a number of teachers, never just one. That’s where the danger lies.
Decades are overrated. We think just because we have ten fingers that time must as well. Rather I’ve come to see time transpiring in overlapping seven-year cycles. I “went it alone” from age 24-31, then went back to school. My work at UNM has been mostly technical rather than conceptual. Hence the two Master’s degrees actually balance productively, though it’s an unusual academic resume to find in a musician.
I went in with three goals: to deepen my relationship with the instrument, to build local musical community, and to benefit from accepting externally imposed daily and weekly structures. To these I would add one more important and unforeseen result: a new and better approach to having a teacher. Actually I would say the experience has set me up for a lifetime of dynamic and useful relations with feedback. A teacher can give you ideas for how to work, and inspiration to keep the work fresh. One benefits from needing less from this person. Advice can be less important than example, discussion, and regular discursive examination.
I’ve been influenced lately by Seth Godin’s ideas about education. He likes to mock the question “will this be on the test?” We use “test” and “examination” as synonyms without really looking at the words. It should be an opportunity to examine something—to look it over and understand it better. This might be more useful than always “testing” oneself against others’ standards. At best we look closely at things. What we find there is the education.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues