True, discipline is an essential part of being a musician, which is something that I admittedly always had a challenge with since I studied piano at Mrs. Wermanski’s house back in 1969. The passion for creating is wonderful and for some people it comes more easily than others. Hunkering down and honing the bass or a vocal run is something that is tedious at best. However, the most important advantage of a musical upbringing was lost in this article.
Back in 1978, I was asked to sing “If Ever I Would Leave You” for the Maryknoll Women’s Group at St. Mary’s Church in Woodstock. I had rehearsed the song with Mrs. Bolger several times and was ready for the program. However, I was on the cross-country team as well and on the day of the event I had been out at the course, running and cheering on my fellow teammates on an extremely chilly fall day. Well the time for the song came and I strode up in front of the piano. Polite applause greeted me as Mrs. Bolger started in with a flourish the opening measures to the Robert Goulet classic. “If ever I would leave you,” I sang and onward to the high note “I never would know.” Except that I never got to the word “know” as my voice gave way to thin reedy nothingness. I felt exactly like Alfalfa in Little Rascals as I had to endure four minutes of reaching the high note and sounding like a teapot boiling. The room got very warm as onward Mrs. Bolger played. I found myself in embarrassment slowly turning away from the audience. By the time the song was mercifully over, I had my back to the audience. My mother was mortified.
Music is a great teacher of failure, especially live performance of music. The only thing that comes close to it in the real world is when professional athletes, such as figure skaters, are there exposed to the world one on one, and in one faltering moment have a great train wreck. Failure is essential for many reasons. But the most important is the ability to pick oneself up after the failure and reclaim the confidence to perform again. My hunch is that this is the most important key to why these people are successful. At some point in their career, they had a spectacular train wreck. If as a musician you can master the grace that a train wreck gives you, you can connect with the humanity of the music, the element that everyone really cares about anyway. Well almost everyone. Here is a link to some of the worst train wrecks when it comes to singing the National Anthem of the United States.