19 April 2008

Is the best you can do good enough?

My thoughts this week have centered on the concept of Excellence. All my life, I've been fairly good at most everything I've done. It's a curse as much as a boon, as it inspired poor habits of study, practice, and work ethic with which I still struggle.

I've largely ended up in music because I'm good at it. And I am. But there are a lot of facets to music, and I'm interested in so many of them. However, I don't want to be good at what I do. I want to be excellent. I want to be like so many of my professors have been--masters at their craft, or at least masters at sharing insights and guiding students in that craft. I don't want to be a second-rate voice teacher, even one with a well-paying, tenured position at a good university. And I'm not sure if I have what it takes to be one of the greats, one who can hear a voice and, almost instinctively, but guided by a depth of knowledge and acuity of observation, know the best way to nurture that voice. I'm not sure if I can develop the personal skills needed to gain the trust of a student to the point where they are willing to feel completely vulnerable, trying things with their voice that they're embarrassed to have heard.

Along the same lines, I can probably become a good conductor, but can I excel there? My personal skills again present one hazard, but I believe I can, with experience, overcome nerves and fears in conducting just as I have in singing, in playing, in friendship, even. But I am again unsure. I don't know what the path is, from a gifted musician to a musician who can inspire others to higher levels of musicianship. From an ear that can listen critically to an ear that can listen critically when standing on the podium, with all those eyes (hopefully) looking to me for what to do...

So I wonder. But I can't truly predict how far I can go. But all my life, I've been able to achieve relative excellence, in comparison with what was required. All my life, I've been better than "good enough," even when hardly trying. Yes, I have innate talents, and should be quite thankful for them. And I am. But I'm approaching a dangerous precipice. Climbing a slope is one matter. Continuing to ascend when the cliff is passed, in short, to take flight... So I fear. How far I can go is a great unknown, and I'm embarking on this journey without knowing whither I go. Where will it end? And, when I do the best I can do, will it be excellent, or will it be merely good enough?

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