I wonder if you are like me. Can you point to the very moment you got hooked on practicing? Not the moment, remembered so fondly by many of us, when we picked the instrument into which we would pour our blood, sweat and tears, but when you made the decision to embark on a journey to become a musician and all that goes with that. Embracing the “joy of the struggle.” Practicing.
Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his beautifully crafted book Outliers, makes the argument that in order to master anything — excelling as an athlete, succeeding as a computer engineer and, indeed, performing as a concert pianist — it takes 10,000 hours of concentrated practice. One way of wrapping your head around 10,000 hours is practicing 20 hours per week (or roughly three hours per day) for 10 years. No missed days. No shortcuts.
For me, the goal was to hold a chair in the Chicago Symphony. I went to the proper music schools, studied trombone with the right people, got the right degrees, auditioned and ultimately didn’t make the cut. At the time, as a 24-year-old, it felt like life was over. Now, I look back on that fleeting moment in time and am beyond grateful. My musical career has taken some amazing twists and turns. So much so, it’s made me reflect about the process of becoming a musician — the road each of us has taken as musicians. And all the practice.
So why do we practice?
In my travels over the years, I’ve asked a few remarkable musicians that question — why practice? And I’ve had some surprising and fascinating takes on the question. David Taylor and Joe Farnsworth are two of them — artists who made me ponder this question. My goal in this question quest is to unravel the answers through our shared history while exploring the big takeaway and examining a life lived through the arts.