Last week I sent a text message that used the word "just" three times. ... A text.
I am especially guilty of using the word "just." I just want to tell people things. I just want to say... I'd just like to ask... I was just wondering... and it will just take a minute. For me, "just" doing something is often an apology. I'm sorry you're reading this right now - I just wanted to share something, and it will just take a moment of your time.
As it turns out, when I started paying attention to this tendency, I found that it has seeped into my professional world, too.
Two days ago, the awesome Christina Feigel and I taught a master class on giving constructive criticism that included scripted responses with students. As happens with scripts, ours became predictable and elicited some laughter and good-natured teasing. What was my response to that? "It's just one option of phrasing."
WHAT WERE YOU DOING, PAST CAYLA?! That meant they were listening, and they learned. No apology needed.
I even do it - and I bet you do, too - in musical and school situations:
Now, the point - I have decided to reclaim the word "just." "Just" is not always evil. Sometimes "just" keeps things in perspective. Sometimes "just" helps me focus.
I put this plan into action last night, for the bassoon preliminaries of the concerto competition. I did a little powering up and made a positive "just" mantra.
I am not going to do everything. I am not going to play with flawless technique. I am not going to be the poster child for authentic Baroque style. I am not even going to remember every note.
And at the end of the evening, I hadn't played with flawless technique or glorious Baroque style. I hadn't even remembered all the notes. "Just" wasn't a perfect plan, by any means. But someone came up to me afterward to tell me how much he enjoyed it - "I mean, really."
You know what I felt like?
Yep, phenomenal cosmic power. "Just" wasn't a perfect plan, but it was a surprisingly empowering one.
I'm just going to leave you with that.
"Hey, will you come listen to something?"
At some point, we have all asked for feedback. Sometimes we ask explicitly, dragging people from the halls into our practice room to hear an excerpt, and sometimes it is the implicit request we make every time we show up for a lesson. This post is purely about that - asking for feedback.
A couple of weeks ago, I read this article in the Chronicle for Higher Education. It is not about music, but many of the points resonated in my immediately-pre-audition mind. When we ask someone to critique our playing, what do we really want?
In case you didn't actually read the article, I'll summarize - Allison points out that we need to be specific in what we want from our listeners. To translate her categories to music, we can ask for one of five types of feedback:
If you do indeed want feedback - you have asked for categories 1, 2, or 3 - the next step is interpreting what you receive. At this point in my thinking, I returned to the array of internet wisdom and found this post.
The important part is what this suggests about interpreting feedback.
Despite the catastrophic mentality of some of us, all critiques are not this:
Similarly, if your critic says anything at all, it does not mean this:
I venture to say that 99.a lot% of feedback lies somewhere between levels 1 and 9, and how we as players choose to respond to that feedback influences our future progress. To translate the author's example to music and add an extra interpretation of my own:
Feedback - "Your double-tonguing in Marriage of Figaro is too short."
Again, perhaps the most helpful interpretation of feedback lies somewhere between the extremes. As someone who tends toward the unclear feedback requests and catastrophic level 10 interpretations, I am making it my personal mission to shift my perspective.
So here it is - if you see me practicing at any point this spring, come on in and listen. I'll be specific and do my best not to enrage the beast.