There are two types of musicians. One thinks no one is as great as me. The other thinks I am the weakest link. And sometimes, they’re the same person.
If you’ve spent any time getting to know musicians, you know that there is a whirlwind going on inside their heads at any given moment. This is why I got high. So I would have one thought at a time. It’s just the way we think. We have notes floating around, patterns, breaking of patterns, etc. and it’s all we can do to focus and adjust.
That said, you also have learned through spending time with musicians that they are the most pompous bunch you’ll ever meet. You probably heard comments like “why dont people like good music?” meaning specifically albeit indirectly, MY music. You might hear them complain about how people like Justin Bieber exist, meaning specifically and indirectly that he isn’t a good or “real” musician.
And why is that? There are all these rules. You don’t play an instrument? Not a real musician. You don’t write your own stuff? Not a real musician. You haven’t recorded with Tony Bennett? Thank God. haha. just kidding!!! (I love Tony Bennett… duets… are… ok…)
My point being that arrogance will often be amongst the first adjectives that come to mind. But it’s somewhat warranted. Some will disagree with me. But stick with me here.
To be a musician – and I mean a working, gigging, performing musician – is to have some level of arrogance. You have to think like I am going to contribute something to the music scene, therefore I will play in public.
I spent nearly 5 years of complete silence – didn’t even TOUCH a piano. Seriously. Except for the occasional karaoke outing, which of course doesn’t “count” (though I’ll tell you what – the right karaoke place brings out the best darn singers you ever did hear), I didn’t sing in public or perform at all.
This is mostly due to a performance that left me wanting to throw mama from the train – mama meaning ME. I was frustrated with my songwriting, hit a wall with my piano playing, and consistently lost my voice somewhere around the 60 minute mark. Pretty much everyone else I saw were stellar and amazing and could memorize. I felt awkward, inadequate and completely incapable of making any kind of dent. So I just stopped.
Fast forward to July of 2007, and I found myself behind a piano for the first time in however many years, at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. Keep in mind, I had played for over 20 years prior to that. (Don’t do the math.)
And then I knew… I was home.
My heart, my fingers, my soul were left on that piano in those few minutes. Plates were passed, money was collected, the Doxology rang in my head. But sitting back in the congregation, I just knew. I missed that in those years.
It’s occurred to me that this is exactly the way it had to happen. Sometimes missing something is good because when you come back, it is that much more meaningful. For me, giving my music back to God and playing for His Glory made all the difference. But it also had a lot to do with just feeling like I didn’t have enough to offer.
And that’s where it comes across as arrogance. I started to play because no one else was around. There’s always someone who will step up, and there will always be someone “better” than you and someone “not as good” as you. But it’s subjective. Technically, I suck. I will be the first to say it. My fingering techniques are atrocious. I can’t run arpeggios to save my life. Other pianists would laugh at me.
But that’s not entirely the point. And that’s where I realized that there is something about technical prowess and perfection – but there’s something else about soul. For me, soul ALWAYS wins out.
I recently saw a college kid play banjo like a madman and sing his little heart, and lungs, out. The passion mixed with skill was phenomenal. Was his voice technically skilled or beautiful? It was ok. He didn’t go flat or sharp. He nailed every note, sure. But it was the rawness and power that made my head almost pop off.
And there’s the flip side of musicians’ arrogance, the fact that we just simply HAVE TO play. It’s like being hungry. You just HAVE to eat. For us, there is nothing more therapeutic, nothing more rewarding, nothing more spiritually engaging than making a good noise. And it turns out that other people happen to respond to it.
But when they don’t respond – seemingly or in reality – we either start to question ourselves or we react with the arrogance thing, which is really just a defense mechanism. You know, the whole “I’M the greatest” routine. You have to FEEL like you’re great to be any kind of artist. Like I would NEVER display anything I’ve ever drawn or painted because I think it sucks and there are others that provide all the beauty I need to see in the world already. But it doesn’t stop me from doing it, just for myself.
And that’s the musician in me, and in all of us. We can’t stop. Hopefully we get better. And hopefully we are secure enough to share the spotlight with others, recognizing that music isn’t about who is better than whom or who sells more CDs or who sells out a venue or any of those things. It’s about creating and it’s about soul. You gotta have soul.