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Learning along the path of life

Every year I learn. Every day I learn, but I tend to embrace projects. These are not about ‘achieving’ per se, or gaining external recognition or status, but about striving to be a better me. It’s about genuinely growing, because frankly, I’m not done yet.

Yesterday one of those projects happened in an old stone church by the sea. I had the pleasure of performing with some wonderful people – a mixture of my current students, a colleague from the university, guests (the local Vicar and one of my alumni who is now a musical director), and my singing teacher. One of the most daunting and exciting things was having my teacher there, in the audience, but also singing with me. Having her there, willing to stand by me was a most wonderful gift and affirmation.

I continue to learn to find my voice – in all areas of life, and it interests me greatly how freedom is gained through expression, communication, and collaboration, whether through writing, speaking, the cello, or singing. This situation was special. It was a group brought together part by necessity and part by design. The four core members will be going with me to LA as part of an educational outreach trip that is one option for the final semester of the Music with Teaching course at my University. Whoever is on that trip comes together to make music. Last night’s performance gave us a chance to have an outing as a group.

Learning out loud

I always learn in these situations. ALWAYS. As I have studied the voice and (non-classical) singing I have learned to appreciate the nuance of listening in a different way, and the complete importance of recordings as a primary source for learning something. -What about the score, you might ask? Sure the score is important in jazz and popular music, but (yes, that needed to be in a glaring red) the score is a skeletal guideline and it doesn’t tell you everything you *need* to get the rhythm, the feel, and even the notes as they should be- as you intend them to be. 

Coming from a classical background this is a tricky thing to explain, because it is neither simple nor something that can be learned instantly, and the idea of ‘listening’ makes it seem like it should be simple and that any musician can already do it. Orchestral musicians can read and are used to playing scores quite accurately with very little rehearsal, and they listen to one another intensely in rehearsal and performance. I often hear people say, ‘Put notes in front of me and I can play them, otherwise, no, I don’t know what to do.” Learning to play fluently in an idiom takes ages. A-ges. (I’m taking baby steps) and the thing is, when the skeletal score is presented to someone who is not familiar with the idiom, it looks simple. An unprepared jump from that simple score to a performance can be a step into quicksand.

In my own learning I have learned to listen to all sorts of new things – and I don’t mean repertoire. Phrasing. Nuance. Balance and transitions in tone. I’m not saying that I can achieve all that I can perceive, but being aware of the process and what’s needed has helped me in my own development and gives me an important perspective into the learning of others. For this concert I had the support of ‘the class’ – my California gang, and as we prepared, they got to grips with the fact that I am learning too and genuinely needed them bolster, encourage, and guide me- and the group – as a whole.

As for the transfer of skills, I was very nervous to sing. (veryveryvery nervous) Some of my students asked – why? You can stand up in front of us; you play your cello. At first it makes little sense, but I promise it is a very different thing, and the reason why has to do with looking at all the factors involved. With singing I am inexperienced and I am still learning many technical skills. I had 20 years of keeping my mouth firmly shut, (classic bad teenage experience) and finding a voice – in whatever medium – takes time. It’s that self thing of self-discovery, self-awareness, and allowing for change. Growth involves change. You could say that growth is an invited (hopefully positive) change.

Doing one thing well does not inherently transfer to another thing, even when they appear to have lots in common. Even within the same instrument if you ask someone to cross styles without experience they will most likely have severe reservations. Intellectually I know the process of singing, but lacked the experience of performance situations and so this public event represented a new challenge for me.

Here’s what I did- the first one is on the cello.


Step by step I am learning, becoming, growing. I am very grateful to everyone who -for a long or short time- walks with me along this path of life.

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