Well begun is half done, they say. But half is still a long way from perfection. In the journey of music and mastery of the instrument, one makes considerable progress initially. However, there comes a time in the life of every musician, or an artist for that matter, when one runs out of ideas, guidance, or even motivation. The enthusiasm and fire that was there in the beginning now seem to have dried up. One is no longer progressing in the art as much as they were doing initially. That is a point of the plateau in the journey of art.
So let’s look at the common hurdles that a seeker of music encounters- for therein lies the secret to re-accelerate the growth of an artist.
Universally, musicians are in various stages of development- by large classifiable into Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced. The problem of stagnation is, however, common to even a musician of the highest stature.
“In the end, it doesn’t really matter how fast or slow one moves…as long as one keeps moving”
Students in the nascent stages of their development are faced with the biggest of challenges. It is said that the first spurt of growth, from seed towards becoming a plant, is the most arduous. To take the first step in the world of music, one needs a person who can hold his hand and show the path. A person who can inspire and give the courage to take the plunge, even though the road ahead may not be so clear. A person, who is living proof of the possibilities of the student himself. And a person who can give the right guidance, of the best possible way to proceed, as well as the pitfalls and speed bumps that one may encounter.
In today’s world of information and technology, there is no dearth of knowledge. It is available at the touch of a button. However, there are a few drawbacks of this advancement:
One, the problem of plenty. There are just too many books and video tutors available online. There are teachers who provide free online flute lessons as well. The plethora of content is so varied that it is mind-boggling to choose one and follow it till the end. Before one can finish the first video, he gets attracted by another one. Such a kind of distraction is not healthy for a beginner to proceed smoothly. It is immensely important to choose one source, trust the teacher, and surrender the energies whole-heartedly in that school of thought.
Two, the learner has little idea of his own special learning needs. He/she is left to choose on their own, the line of thought that would be best suited for their needs. This kind of trial and error often leads to wasted time and energy.
Three- in the absence of wisdom in the initial learner, there is immense doubt in the mind of the student. There is doubt whether the information shared on the online platform is indeed authentic in nature.
Lastly, even after all these years of scientific progress, the computer has not been able to replace the love and care that a real living mentor can provide. It is the most essential factor in making a good musician, as also the time it takes for one to reach fruition. A living mentor gives you feedback in real time and instantaneously. He makes sure that you are not wasting your energies in futile adventures. He also doesn’t let the student sink into mediocrity. A mentor is your biggest supporter during the lows, but also the strongest critic.
These factors notwithstanding, the path of a beginner is shrouded with lots of trials and errors. It demands great commitment along with patience, from the student. Patience and trust, that his efforts will bear fruits one day. A self-belief that no matter how many times he encounters failure, he needs to continue putting in the hard work, rather more intensely. In the absence of these strong qualities in a beginner student, it is easy to give up and stop practicing. An irregular practice routine is not the right fertile environment for the growth of a new student in music. So, it is important to have a guiding force who keeps giving internal strength and encourages one to keep up the search with perseverance.
To conclude, the beginner student tends to get lost in the literature and aids that are in oversupply, coupled with the lack of a real mentor, like Shri Himanshu Nanda, to shed light on the path. In time, one loses hope that their efforts are doing them any good, leading them to ultimately give up the pursuit. In this respect, the importance of a mentor can never be over-emphasized.
“Ask, for it shall be given; knock and the doors shall be opened unto you”, says The Bible. A mentor is just like that- a little knock away.
This is a point in a musician’s life when one has moved past the initial challenges of entering the world of music. When one has been practicing the art for a reasonable amount of time but has not yet matured to the point of mastery.
Let us look at the unique stumbling blocks of this phase:
1. Arrogance – “Empty vessels make more noise”
Although arrogance is not a trait to find even amongst those in the advanced phases, it is ironically more common when the knowledge is still not ripe enough. The burden of assuming that one knows enough is the greatest hindrance one can impose upon one’s growth in any field of life.
The intermediate student, having overcome the initial challenges, tends to get carried away into a blind delusion. They get into a delusion that they have gathered all the skills possible. This delusion eats away the thirst for excellence and perfect mastery.
2. The other extreme is the tendency to continuously compare oneself with one’s peers and seniors. This comparison tends to breed negativity, fear, and jealousy. It is a tremendous waste of one’s creative energies to be consumed by comparison and envy. There is obviously no creative progress when the heart is full of such negative attributes. These attributes are in fact, ill-founded. Every person has his own unique qualities. In the same way, every individual has his own pace of learning and advancing in music. Comparison with another musician is an insult to one’s own unique potential.
3. Lastly, there is a cohort of music students, who do not realize that they have plateaued. The simple reason for this being that they were never in search of excellence, to begin with. Music was just a hobby- a means of having some meaningful leisure activity in the midst of their daily struggles of life. Their daily schedule, with all the worldly responsibilities, would not allow them the luxury to devote more hours to regular practice. They themselves pragmatically realize this and gladly accept that the progress they have achieved is much more than they could expect out of a ‘simple hobby’! In my opinion, it would be unfair to take this joy out of their peaceful lives and force them to go after excellence. As the popular zen proverb goes “Easy is right, and right is easy”
After several years of rigorous training, hardships, and innumerable sacrifices, a musician finally reaches a point of maturity. A long-awaited time when he truly starts tasting success- both professionally and artistically.
Does it matter now if he stops growing in his art?
Does this question trouble an advanced performing artist?
Yes, it most definitely does. Why?
Because it is the nature of life to keep flowing and to keep growing. If an artist does not continue to grow, he risks being stagnant and ultimately withers away into anonymity.
So what, after all, is the secret to keeping growing even after reaching the pinnacles of mastery?
One of the greatest Tabla exponents of the century, Ustad Allarakha Khan Sahib had these words of wisdom for his budding tabla student-son, later Ustad Zakir Hussain: “Son, don’t ever try to be a master. Just try to be a student and you’ll get by alright in life” Those words contain the essential advice for any and every musician who is afraid of stagnating in his/her musical journey- to constantly strive to be a student, and to incorporate the attitude of openness to learning new things.
Besides this, there are certain specific psycho-socio-economic factors that need a mention as potential whirlpools in the free flow of the artist’s metaphoric river:
In recent times, it has become increasingly difficult to make a decent living out of being just a musician. To add, the ever-increasing competition does not make the situation any better. In such conditions, the advanced performing musician, even after witnessing the highest points of artistic potential, is forced to resort to mediocrity in order to make a regular humble livelihood.
It becomes detrimental to take creative risks and accidental successful experiments tend to be repeated to the point of getting dull and monotonous. The fear of losing ‘business’ to a fellow musician is evermore in today’s times. There is no saying that such insecurity is not a healthy sign for a good musician.
Amongst all these pressures to artistic integrity and the constant demand to mechanically churn out new music, the musician has hardly any time left to polish or maintains his musical chops. It is only through conscious awareness of these challenges along with a deep trust in existence or one’s gurus, which we can keep growing, and continue to walk on this never-ending pilgrimage called MUSIC.
Author – TEJASH MODI (WITH INPUTS FROM SHRI HIMANSHU NANDA)