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Virtuosity in All Things


The word virtuoso is an integral part of the musician’s vocabulary. We admire anyone, who through acquisition of skill and display of artistry earns the title virtuoso. Most musicians can name those one or two artists who have achieved such status and who have had a significant impact on their lives. And if we are being honest about our own musicianship, we have likely dreamed of becoming a virtuoso ourselves at some point.

Virtuosity is often defined with words like brilliance, mastery, finesse, excellence, ability, and craftsmanship. It is typically reserved for those most adept at music or other artistic pursuits. In music, the true virtuoso performs with flawless technique, great ease, and exceptional artistry. Such a performance can transport the listener to another plane. We are not distracted by any struggles with technique or endurance. Rather, we are caught up in the sheer beauty of the work, and completely engulfed in the story being told through sound.

Sergei Nakariakov

I recall a performance some years ago at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in Banff, Alberta, Canada by Russian-Israeli Trumpet Virtuoso Sergei Nakariakov. He was performing Haydn’s Concerto for Cello on four-valve flugelhorn. It was one of the most stunning displays of musicianship I had ever witnessed. It was also one of those times when everyone in the room knew they were part of something special while it was happening. Typically, after time to reflect and consider all the details and circumstances, we often deem a performance as special. But, this was different. This sheer beauty of his sound, and the magnificent musicianship on display allowed everyone there to know immediately that something magical was happening. And we, the audience were clearly of one mind on this subject, for when he played the final note of the last movement, every person in that room leapt to their feet to start what was to be a very long and enthusiastic ovation filled with gratitude for what we had just experienced. I do not recall how many curtain calls there were. But, I do recall the palpable energy and electricity in the room brought about through his incredible virtuosity. I will never forget that performance and the multi-layered musical, emotional, spiritual experience that it was. Nor will forget the way that his virtuosity landed on everyone in that room to the degree that we stood in perfect unison to show our appreciation. His performance was so obviously beautiful.


Nakariakov’s virtuosity is rare. There are few, that possess his ability to manage the instrument’s physical and technical challenges with such ease while still delivering such a heartfelt message through the music. This incredible combination of skill and heart is what makes him so special and what draws so many people to hear him. His virtuosity has given him access to countless listeners across his career and the response is overwhelmingly positive.


The idea of virtuosity need not remain within the constructs of our musical lives. Virtuosity in all things is a worthwhile goal that can and will enhance all areas of our lives. Akin to the performer who has spent hours working on technical facility and informing themselves musically to the greatest possible extent, we can do the same thing in our every day lives; professionally and personally. And while we typically do not refer to someone as a virtuoso husband or a virtuoso father, the idea of accessing the same perspective, and viewing the work in our lives as an artistic expression could lead to a beautiful result. Can you make a presentation or lead a meeting with virtuosity? Can you manage a difficult situation toward an elegant solution that is nothing short of a display of virtuosity? Yes.


Musicians understand the value of process. We know that the final amazing result only occurs after many hours of practice and years of refinement. By viewing our personal lives in the same way, we can access the same discipline and patience that are an integral part of our lives as musicians. When preparing for a performance, we know the gradual, often glacial pace required to be successful.


Within the parts of our lives and places in our brains where we make music, we have managed our own expectations to endure and even embrace the struggle for excellence. We learn to muster a great deal of patience within ourselves while we constantly, and consistently move toward the goal. Granted, there are plenty of instances when frustration sets in. But, with the performance looming, we learn to be organized, thoughtful, and intentional about doing whatever is necessary to achieve the goal.

Bring those same traits, learned or inherited, into our daily lives and suddenly our perspective changes. Being a thoughtful, devoted husband requires detailed attention to both everyday issues as well as long-standing commitments. Being a thoughtful, caring father requires patience, tolerance, and the ability to accept unexpected and sweeping change. Life is a daily performance comprised of constants and variables. If approached with the agility of a well-trained musician, we can adapt to what is before us, and still manage to make something beautiful of it.

The saying goes “We can’t be all things to all people.” But quite often, life demands just that. Our roles in our families, our jobs, our communities, our professions seem to require more hours than we have in a day. And while the work-life balance has become a significant issue of discussion in recent years, we must each find our own way to manage all of these demands. But, the premise here goes beyond just managing these things or finding balance. Instead, it is moving toward a true sense of virtuosity so that when the time comes to look back at our lives, we can be pleased and enjoy a sense of peace for a job well done.

Years ago, when my role at the college was changing due to our growth, I was faced with the decision to choose administration over conducting the bands. This was not easy for me as I loved the time with the students, and the time spent making music. But, administration was a new endeavor and an opportunity for me to grow and be challenged in new ways.

As I pondered what it might mean to step off the podium and no longer be viewed as the conductor of the wind ensemble, I realized what really mattered to me was what my family thought. My wife was supportive as always and encouraged me to do whatever made me happy. I knew this would be her response. I was actually more concerned about my oldest son. He was young at the time but enjoying a great deal of success in music. Even at this age, his path seemed fairly clear. His perception was supremely important to me. And so, one evening on the brink of making this decision while tucking him in to bed, I asked

“what would you think if I were no longer the conductor in front of the concert bands?” He responded quickly and honestly by saying “You would still be directing the jazz ensemble, right?” I smiled and assured him that I would. He said, “As long as you keep doing the jazz ensemble, I am good with it.” That conversation was so important to me and marked a pivotal moment that I will never forget. Because I had made that “one big decision,” what he thought truly mattered to me. My willingness and ability to bring him into this conversation was a way for me to be sure I had considered all the details, much in the same way I would preparing an important piece. It was an attempt at virtuosity in all things.

Some might think it crazy for me to rely on the input of my then twelve-year-old son to make a large life decision. But to me, making a decision that incorporated all aspects of my life was the virtuosic thing to do. I was making a decision that incorporated and respected the input of my employer, colleagues, wife, children, and self. Managing the complex counterpoint of all those lines to achieve the most beautiful result possible was simply me exercising my virtuosity in all those roles. I look back on that process now and feel a great sense of peace and accomplishment much as I might after performing a concerto or sonata exactly the way I wanted to.

Virtuosity in all things starts and ends with relationships. The complex harmony and angular melodies that are our connections with other people provide the real opportunities to explore our excellence, our dexterity, our mastery. Not because we get what we want, but because we interact in respectful, thoughtful dialogue that generates kindness, generosity, and consensus. Outcomes mean nothing if the people involved are not happy. The true virtuoso prioritizes people over money, or accomplishment.

The first step toward virtuosity in all things is to understand and accept the many roles we occupy. Like the various genre of music we encounter, each of these roles requires a comprehensive perspective to achieve elegance, ease, and beauty. But, each also requires an in-depth knowledge of details that account for the subtle differences required to achieve the best possible performance. Our interactions with family are different than those with colleagues at work, yet so much of the communication required to be virtuosic is the same. At the center of this is understanding our relationship to each person and our role in their life; not how we perceive them, but how they perceive us.

Without a doubt, it takes a certain amount of ego to be a musician and a teacher. At some point in time, we made the decision that what we had to say musically and/or pedagogically was important. To that end, it is easy to become frustrated when someone, especially someone higher up the food chain, does not immediately grasp our vision for something or understand our needs. This common occurrence is an opportunity to achieve virtuosity in all things. Frustration can be replaced by viewing the situation as an opportunity to educate. Set aside the anger of not being understood and use this as an opportunity to exercise your mastery and dexterity as an advocate for what you believe is important. As author Ryan Holliday reminds us “The Obstacle Is The Way.”

The virtuoso finds a way to manage even the most difficult passages that at first may seem impossible. The virtuoso has the ability to analyze and formulate an elegant solution to the most challenging problems. By working to carry out small acts of perfection in all we do every day, we continue to achieve virtuosity in all things.



 


Homework:

1. The Note Cards Game: Acquire a package of notecards. On each card, write one role that you have in your life; Spouse to X, Parent to X, Parent to Y, Sibling to X, Sibling to Y, Teacher, Performer. The rule, one role per card. Spread the cards out on a table so that you can consider how many roles you play in life. Now, arrange those in some sort of prioritized order that makes sense for you. Now contemplate ways you can bring virtuosity to all those things while preserving your own sanity.

2. Consider what it means to be a virtuoso at something outside of music. Set some weekly goals for one of your roles and follow through.

3. Have a conversation with someone in your life about the nature of your relationship with them to gain perspective on how you might be perceived.


William Stowman

is professor of Trumpet and Chair of the Department of Music at Messiah University. With over thirty years in Music Education, he is in demand as a soloist, clinician, and guest conductor. As a trumpeter, Bill has has three solo CD’s to his credit: A Matter of Seconds (Mark Records), A Timeless Place (Klavier), and Parable (Mark Records). He regularly performs with The Messiah College Faculty Brass, BrassCross, and Tromba Mundi. He can be reached directly at wstowman@messiah.edu

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