This past week my 13 year old son performed in the NYC Opera Renaissance production of Tosca. We luckily got to see it before the blizzard (Snowmaggedon 2016) hit on the weekend and the show was lovely. For my son, I think it is one of those experiences in which he was irrevocably changed. It was a life changing experience, one in which you can never be the person you were before it. It was like walking through a door that closed behind you to the life you had before.
Novelists and screenwriters know this concept well as this is what has to happen in a successful story. Their character needs to move through some life-changing turning points, a door that closes behind them. But, we can do this for ourselves. We can be the heroes in our own story that is still unfolding before us. We can choose the red pill or the blue pill as Neo had to in the Matrix or “Follow the yellow brick road."
Think back on your life. Go way back to your childhood - maybe 6 or 8 years old. Now spend some time and write down every turning point going forward. They could be singular events or an experience of a person you met that changed you over a period of time. Maybe a recital performance? Or a track meet? Or maybe you had a speech or lecture? Or perhaps it was a first job, or a firing from a job. I’ve had a bunch of these. Or it could be a physical move to a new geographic location.
How many turning points have you experienced? Was each of these points positive or negative? If they feel neutral, that would mean they are not changing you in a significant way.
By becoming aware of your own life story, you can begin to see your own greater meaning. They say that hindsight is 20/20, but only if you examine it and find the links in your story. What has your life been leading up to? What is your life purpose?
In looking back at my life, I have had at least 25 turning point moments. Most adults will have at least a dozen if not more. And I didn’t always know these were turning points at the time.
There was the birth of my son. To think I was terrified of being a parent and yet it has forever changed my life. There were the numerous times I was fired from jobs. (Finally a wakeup call that I really needed to honor my entrepreneurial side.) There was the time when I made it to a 3rd callback for Miss Saigon on Broadway. Or the year I wrote down the craziest outrageous goals and they all came true! And so many more...
And then there were the difficult times like my mother’s passing from cancer and the times I hurt others with my words or burnt relationships out of ignorance, arrogance, and vanity. Or the years I crawled back inside myself and tried to hide from the world. Some of these doors closing made me more aware of my conduct, words, and attitude; and thus can be seen as positive in the end. But they still hurt.
One of my favorite moments in the film, the Lion King illustrates this perfectly. Here’s a short video clip.
In our jobs as music teachers we play a larger role which may not always be recognized by the student or even ourselves. That role is a mentor/coach who can help our students become more aware, more conscious. Music begins by listening to external sounds, but leads to listening internally to thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Every day, as I teach my students, I keep an eye out for “conscious moments,” moments where I can connect the dots between learning music and learning life. Not every lesson can be a turning point, nor is every recital. But as you probably know, there are things you heard your teacher say, or something they did, that has indelibly made a mark on your own life.
I remember in preparing for a recital years ago, I taught a young student to visualize themselves playing her piece perfectly and really making note of the feeling in her body, the sounds in the room, the feeling of the lighting on her shoulders, the squeak of the chair, the temperature…everything. She really took this to heart and years later, she still mentions how powerful this was and how she uses it in school.
There’s a popular question interviewers love to ask:
“What advice would you give your younger self?”
I think I would tell my 20 year old self to start asking:
Your music lesson may be the spark that leads to a blazing fire of passion, curiosity, and growth in your student…and mankind.
I welcome your comments and feedback below.