Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Mastery of Music

If you've been involved in music for very long, I'm sure that you are familiar with The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey. Earlier this year, I stumbled across another work by Green that I wasn't familiar with --  The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry. The title caught my attention immediately; sadly the book didn't see the light of day under mounds of music and paperwork that demanded my attention.

This week I saw the green cover again and took the time to dive in. What a wonderful read! Green devotes an entire chapter to each of the ten pathways he identifies as necessary for artistry.  The pathways are communication, courage, discipline, fun, passion, tolerance, concentration, confidence, creativity, ego and humility. To assist in the mental organization of the book, Green associates each characteristic with an instrument that is stereotypically associated with the quality. Who can argue with the assertion that trumpet players have loads of confidence? I especially found the humor in discussing tolerance from the perspective of the musicians in the middle -- the violas as well as music managers.

Green's prose is easy going and tinged with memorable phrases. To add to the quality writing, Green includes anecdotes and interviews from leading instrumentalists. Their insight into the importance of the  specific characteristic and suggestions on strengthening that quality in your own life are definitely worth consideration by all musicians. I am certain that I will return to various chapters of the book again and again in the years to come.

Two discussions in particular spoke to me as I read The Mastery of Music for the first time. First was the chapter on courage.  Dale Clevenger, principle horn player with the Chicago Symphony, had this to say about the courage of musicians:
I don't think of what I do as particularly courageous -- but I do believe that what we do is deeply important: we affect the souls of those our music touches. To me, playing music is a very high calling: it is a responsibility, and a sacred trust. Making music may sometimes be difficult and sometimes fun -- but for me, at least, it is first, last, and always an honor and a joy. (Green, The Mastery of Music, p. 65)
What a beautiful expression of why we make music on a regular basis! I immediately found myself ready to rehearse with new vigor after reading that passage.

The other discussion that resonated with my soul was the chapter devoted to creativity. This pathway is referred to as the journey into the soul. In his examination of composers and improvising musicians, Green included several gems that I find it hard to select just one to highlight. So I'll share a few of my favorite statements.

Creativity breeds creativity just as humor breeds humor.  (p. 239)
Most people don't enjoy eating the same food, viewing the same movie, or wearing the same clothes every day. Creativity seems to be inspired by a human desire for variety, uniqueness, and personal expression. While the creative process is always going on within the souls of everyone, sometimes we need a specific inspiration to bring these impulses to an artistic form. (p. 244)
[from an interview with Fred Hersch, jazz pianist] Picasso said that if you want to create art, you have to make a mess. You have to take the time to experiment. You can't get side-tracked by perfection issues if you want to be a great artist. You have to take chances -- and a certain percentage of them are not going to bake. But over time, your batting average will get higher.
I can't offer enough high praise for this inspiring book. Get your hands on a copy and let yourself begin to travel each of the pathways to artistry with new vision.

The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry was published by Broadway Books in 2003.