The Illusion of Progress

“Be not afraid of going slowly.  Be afraid only of standing still.”-Chinese Proverb-

The above proverb has, in a way, become my motto.  I used to have it written on the board above my desk at work.  In fact, I should probably do so again.  I would see it many times each day and have the reminder that as long as I am laboring and working to make progress, then everything will work out just the way it should.  Progress always.  

I had a teacher in high school that was pretty influential on my life.  Her name was Judy Pederson and she was my Honors and AP English teacher.  I remember her telling our class more than once (probably many, many times) over the years that when we cease to learn something each day, that’s when we die.  I didn’t really understand it all that well as a teenager and I’m not sure I fully get it even now.  I just finally realize that not striving my hardest to make progress is not just standing still – it’s going backward.  I cannot afford to move the wrong direction in life – I’m not willing to try that move.  Progress always.

One summer a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a friend of mine, Luke.  He was working on his MM degree at NYU but back in the area for a little while giving some music theater workshops.  I was the pianist and it was truly remarkable to see the transformations that the attendees (I can’t think of an appropriate word to call them) made over the course of their session.  I also learned a few things.  One night during this time, after I practiced my scales and was making my plans for the rest of my practice session, I decided to try a little something different.  In these workshops Luke talked about a process called centering – and I decided to try it.  Granted, as a pianist I am not using my words to convey the emotion but rather all the technical things like tone, voicing, and the like.  Well, I decided to try it anyway.  It was amazing.  I tried it first with Bach.  My Bach had been with me so long that it had just become a part of me.  As I played it, it felt different – I was not, icing different things within the piece – important things.  It was incredible.  I don’t know that I even would want to go back to playing it the way it was.  Using the centering  process on Bach was like being in the dead center of a lightning storm.  Lightning is flashing all around you and things are being seen in new and exciting ways – but in flashes.  It was like being taken to a higher realm and understanding things that my teachers have been trying to tell me about playing.  Progress always.

As I reflect on this moment, I wonder if I have once again started standing still or moving backward?  Am I consciously making that effort toward progress and all of its wonderful results?  What are you doing to ensure that you are moving forward?  Send me your ideas – I would love to hear them.

Is this idea of progress really just all an illusion?

Peace and Love (and Progress),

The Mad Pianist

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