NEC Sophomore’s thoughts about success

In my first blog on this subject I endeavored to set forth the career challenges and outlined the skills that a young musician should possess in these ever changing and highly technological times. That foundation in place, I could then “open the microphones” to a number of different voices in the form of guest bloggers invited to contribute to this series. My first writer is Lyle Davidson, the much respected and long time member of NEC’s Music Theory and Music in Education  faculty. I have had many discussions with Lyle, which, due to our respective schedules, always seem to happen in the parking lot. Lyle is a great thinker, completely alive to all the energy and innovations of our age. He expresses a unique point of view and one that has helped to shape my own ideas. In this blog he has written something which in many ways I consider to be profound despite its simple narrative and clear conclusions. I love that he is obviously learning with the students as well as teaching.

Lyle Davidson with Solfege class

Lyle Davidson with Solfege class

A brief word of explanation. Lyle mentions the “President’s Council for Entrepreneurship” which is a group of kindred spirits I convened from students, alums, faculty and outside organizations including the Boston Symphony, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Royal Northern College of Music in the UK.  We meet every year to discuss our progress in this field, to brainstorm new ideas and to challenge our thinking and direction. And I ADORE this group!!

–Tony Woodcock

NEC Sophomores discuss what contributes to success

Lyle Davidson

When I met with my Solfege 4 class on Wednesday, February 13, the students were expecting to sing through Beethoven’s Symphony no. 4 and conduct selected sections of the first movement. Our typical class activity includes exercises in six clefs, transposition, and score reading. They were ready.

But I decided to change the agenda. I wanted to share with them some of the thinking that took place two days earlier at the President’s Council for Entrepreneurship meeting. Rather than give them the headlines, I posed the question we had discussed: What training, skills, or experiences have been central to your personal success?

I told them how valuable the meeting had been. I described the variety of participants, pointing out that this was not simply a meeting of a single group, but included trustees, faculty, staff, and students. I described the question of success and the issue of the role of music and musicians in society today.

I asked them if they would like to consider the question of their own successes. They quietly looked at one another. I decided to push on with my agenda a little more. They continued to be a little puzzled until I pointed out that as musicians they were (and I looked at each student), indeed, successes.

“Maybe you don’t think of yourself as being successful. You are in an environment where everyone around you appears to be better than you are, where your teachers are constantly — as they should be — pushing you to do more. It is difficult under these circumstances to feel successful. But . . . (I paused for dramatic effect) . . . you have applied to one of the best music schools in the world, and you were accepted, and here you are, working with the people in the environment you set your sights on! Each one of you is a success!”

I then reframed the question to focus on what they felt had made their success possible. I waited a bit before calling on a student I knew would have a thoughtful response.

“A vision,” he said.

That did it. I went to the board and began writing what I heard:  Vision.  I put the first word on the board. If you don’t have an idea of what you really want to do, you will never succeed—at anything.

“Yes, but you have to have more than just an idea, you have to feel passionate about it,” said another student.

(I wrote Passion on the board).

“Yes, it has to be the most important thing in the world.  It needs to inspire you,” someone else commented.

Inspiration went up.  These students had a lot to say.

“Without passion and inspiration, you can’t really be as motivated as you have to be to be successful,” another added.

Motivation was the next word.

The class was off and running.  Vision had to be fueled by passion, inspiration, powerful motivation.

I offered no suggestions; one student’s comments flowed into those of another. One student’s observation triggered another line of thought in a classmate. I tried to keep up. I always checked to see if what I was writing captured the essence of the meaning of what was being offered. I made sure that every student had the opportunity to contribute.

“Love.  Love is very important,” one of the more reticent students said.

There was a giggle.  Another student followed up by pointing out that love meant support and that without the support and sacrifice of friends and family it would be impossible to be here.

That brought the next response about the importance of money as a support.  That brought lots of laughter.

“Money and scholarship assistance is just another form of the love and support necessary for a musician,” another student pointed out.

“What about a plan? You have to have a plan,” someone else added.

“Well, you have to be determined to carry it out.  It takes a lot of persistence.  If you don’t have the determination you may give up on your plan.”

“Opportunity is also important.  You have to have opportunities.”

One person then pointed out that you have to be open to opportunity.  “Opportunities may be all around you but if you are not open to them, then you don’t see them.”

Another student thoughtfully raised the issue of risk, pointing out that it is so easy to fail.

“You have to be ready to fail and not give up.”

Immediately another person spoke of the need for courage, while a third observed that a great deal of confidence was certainly necessary too.

“The teacher is really important.  You have to have a good teacher.  A good teacher supports you in all kinds of ways.”

“What about practice?” another student chimed in.

There was a lull in the flow.  By now everyone had spoken at least once—even the more reserved ones.

Suddenly, one of the quieter students exclaimed, “I don’t think all these ideas have the same value.  I think that some are more important than others.”  (Oh, I do love these students.)

She argued that Vision was the most important thing.  Almost immediately, another student pointed out the importance of the teacher.

“Without a teacher, you can’t achieve your vision by yourself.”

“But practice is important too.  Without practice and lots of it, it didn’t matter what your vision or who your teacher was,” someone else chimed in.

The class time flew by.  The board was full.  I thanked the class and told them how much they had given me to think about.  Some of the students copied down what was on the board. A couple whipped out their smart phones and took photos.

I realized that I too could take a picture.

Lyle's blackboard

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5 Responses to NEC Sophomore’s thoughts about success

  1. Pingback: Sandra Bullock Meets Beethoven | Tony's Blog

  2. Peter Drucker summed it up in his usual succinct way: affinity, ability, and opportunity. Most of what these students mentioned comes under the heading of affinity. That’s only 1/3 of what it takes to succeed. Ability–as confirmed by others–is of course crucial. But the real clincher for musicians is opportunity. Supply vastly exceeds demand in the music business, especially classical. And this is where conservatories and colleges have miserably failed, IMO. They address the first two, but do little to honestly prepare students for the cruel world of few opportunities. And what do these students know? They haven’t been there yet. But, very likely, the majority of them will be making near-poverty level income *if* they stick just to performing arts. Most will add other income opportunities to their mix, like full time teaching or even something completely unrelated. I wish it weren’t so, but I’m afraid the facts will bear me out.

  3. Pingback: Choosing Music by Kristopher Tong | Tony's Blog

  4. Pingback: The Art of Losing Your Self by Melissa Snoza | Tony's Blog

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