As the New Year dawns bright and full of possibilities, (the financial cliff not withstanding), this is a useful time to contemplate where we stand on our path of development as musicians, and to think thoughtfully about where we’d like to be in the coming year. My wife and I make it a priority to take turns, voicing our goals, and writing down each other’s dreams and aspirations for the coming year. It gives us a supportive place to dream big and to begin to put into practice what we are imagining for ourselves. Even if you don’t put much credence in books like “The Secret”, which posits that positive thinking brings us what we think about, I think that we can all agree that it’s useful to know what it is that we really want so we can begin to take the steps to bring it into being. Knowing what we want also helps us pay attention, appreciate and take advantage of these gifts when they arrive.
I currently practice mindfulness meditation and have practiced some form of meditation off and on since I was 15. In 1984, while sitting on my cushion, cross-legged (a position that at age 54 I am much less comfortable taking!) I had a thought–which greatly surprised me–that seemed to come completely out of the blue. I would drive from Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I was living at the time, to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit Darol Anger, a musician I had met the previous summer.
The extremely significant thing about this message was that I listened to it and took quick and decisive action. I made a call to Darol, who assured me I was welcome to crash on his couch, loaded up my little Ford Fiesta (with no air-conditioning), and drove for several very long, hot days to Oakland, California.
Darol was a musical hero of mine. And he had made many recordings, something that impressed and intimidated me. I only took my cello on the trip after realizing how foolish it would be to drive all that way and not be able to take advantage of whatever musical opportunities awaited me.
There were many adventures along the way, including hearing Darol (who happened to be traveling at the same time I was driving towards the Bay Area) and a host of other musicians including a cellist friend of his play a concert near Zion National Park in Utah, and playing my cello in sight of a breathtaking view of Lake Tahoe.
After hanging out with Darol, I was introduced to his good friends and improvising violinists Matt Glaser, a noted jazz educator at the Berklee School of Music, and David Balakrishnan, founder and presently my partner in Turtle Island Quartet, I was asked to perform at one of their concerts. It’s hard to overstate what a leap this was for me! My dreams were literally coming true before my eyes! David asked me if I was interested in being in a jazz string quartet he had already composed for but which only existed in his head. Well, he didn’t have to ask me twice!
Being specific is key to getting exactly what you want, but be flexible. While my dream of being a jazz cellist didn’t include playing for 27 years in a jazz string quartet, I was smart enough to realize that the opportunities that came my way were aligned with my specific goals and worth pursuing.
My particular path came as a result of many years of dreaming of being a jazz cellist, visualizing being a recording artist, seeing myself returning to my beautiful home state of California, and of course practicing my cello countless hours. I don’t believe I would have found my way into the Turtle Island Quartet had I not been thinking seriously about what I wanted my future to be, actively working on making it a reality by listening to all the jazz recordings I could lay my hands on; risking extreme embarrassment by forming a band and performing several times a week; saying yes to opportunities to record my own music; and reaching out to potential mentors who gave sage advice, some of which–like “Don’t quit your day job”–I soundly ignored.
As the earth continues it’s year-long trip around the sun, I invite you to take some time to contemplate where you want to be a year, five years, even ten years from now. What do you need to do to make these dreams happen? How much practicing needs to be done? What kinds of networking do you need to do? Are there teachers and other mentors who can help you to achieve your goals? You might be quite surprised to find out how willing many working musicians are to help you, if you’ll ask with earnestness and respect.
Some of these goals will be short term: wanting to learn a particular piece, or working towards getting more comfortable on stage. It’s vital to know what you want so as to bring it into your life on a continual basis. Write your dreams down, so you can clearly see where you want to go. A yearly session of goal setting is an excellent way to gauge your progress.
My wish for you in the coming year is work towards bringing your dreams into reality. May your musical journey bring you joy and happiness.