Seriously. I don’t. This has been a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot the past few months. In the Navy, I have worked with all levels of musicians, from people barely able to play their instruments (thank goodness not at the band right now!) to people who have advanced degrees from major music schools. The point I want to make is that there is no difference in talent base between these people. Really. The difference comes from the amount of work we put in, and the knowledge and tools to make that work, well, work.
I recently attended a masterclass given by Frank Cohen, in which he said something that really stuck with me. Speaking to one of the performers in the class, he said, “the only difference between you and me is that I know what to listen for.” Wow, I thought, that is so true!! The biggest difference between me now and me 10 years ago is that I now have the proper tools to get to where I want to be as a clarinetist.
A good teacher is one that prepares a student for life after school. I was lucky to have teachers who embodied this philosophy. It is important to not only teach a student to be a better musician, but also teach them to make themselves better musicians. I haven’t had a proper clarinet lesson in over four years, but I have never stopped trying to make myself better. And I am a much better musician than I was when I graduated from Eastman five years ago.
As far as talent goes, I do think that music and playing an instrument comes easier for some than for others. But I would hardly count that as true talent. I think I stopped “riding on my talent” (aka being able to stay afloat with little practice and effort) sometime in the first semester of my freshman year of college. Yep. Since then, I’ve had to bust my butt. I’m telling you, its hard work and dedication, not talent, that gets you success in this business.
Many ask me how I got to be so good at the clarinet. Here it is: I commit to daily practice (well, 6ish days a week), I work on fundamentals 50% of the time. So, yes, that clarinetist playing long tones for 15 minutes or more per day? That’s me. That clarinetist that works on scales (still!) daily even though she hates them with a passion? That’s me. That clarinetist working on articulation until her tongue is calloused? That’s me. It sucks, its not fun. But it is necessary, and its a sacrifice I’m willing to make because in the end, being a good clarinetist is SUPER FUN!