A friend recently sent me an article on Cindy Gallop, a former successful advertising exec turned entrepreneur. I really enjoyed reading the article, as Cindy is a quirky, outspoken, and tough woman who lives her own life, doing what she wants instead of what she “should” or is “supposed to do.” Her current organizations deal with positive social change (in rather unexpected yet logical ways) and while I don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of her mission, I admire the grace of her approach.
When asked what she would tell her younger self, Cindy said, “I’ve realized from the great height of age 54, that the single worst dynamic in life and in business is the fear of what other people think. The best moment in my life -- it wasn’t a moment, more of a gradual realization -- was the day I realized I didn’t give a damn what anybody thought about me. Have the confidence to believe in your own opinions and your own thoughts.”
Cindy’s words really struck a chord with me, especially in regards to classical music study and performance. Though we musicians are trained to be “artists” with our own thoughts, our attention is often diverted externally.....we depend on applause, on the external validation. In school, many of us ask variants of the following: “Will my performance please my teachers and my peers? What do others think of me as a musician? Are my musical choices valid?” We feel elated and happy when others complement our performances. We feel upset and worthless when our performances are criticized, (or worse) no one says anything at all! We live in constant fear of displeasing our audiences, teachers, peers.
Unfortunately, indulging in this kind of behavior breeds insecurity rather than mastery. The insecurity deepens when the musician encounters critical peers and teachers (who are probably engaging in similarly unhealthy behavior). Some teachers feed this behavior, insisting that students cater to the teacher’s sense of musical right and wrong, or risk failing the recitals or juries. In that case students have no choice but to worry about what someone else thinks.
Cindy’s statement implies that worrying or caring what others think is the same as asking to fail. If a musician chooses to please others over themselves, the musician will be miserable.....not every performance will produce glowing reviews and not every teacher will consistently want the same things from week to week. (It’s a curious phenomenon with teachers; one week we earnestly insist on a certain choice and then next week say, “Who on earth told you to do that?”). Musicians looking to for external applause will live anxiously from one performance to the next, never feeling grounded and always slightly unhappy. One possible cause for our malaise is that we have stopped searching for our own truth. We’ve stopped asking, “How can I perform today in a way that will make ME proud and happy with myself? How do I really want to play this?"
This is why I ask you to hold your applause. The loudest voices ought to be the ones inside of us: the ones that encourage us to explore all possible choices, the ones that cheer us onwards even if we trip, and lastly, the voices that stand behind us as we strive to give our best to others freely and unconditionally. Please, save the applause for yourself.