The essence of lifelong learning is beautifully expressed by a traditional Latvian proverb: “Mūžu dzīvo, mūžu mācies” (‘A life to live, a life to learn’). It’s a state of mind: to be a student for life, constantly learning something new every day. But – choose your source of learning wisely!
Personal growth is personal, and different for everybody. For me, one of the greatest sources for my personal growth as a musician have been books. I love reading, and sometimes read 3-4 books at the same time. As I am not a native speaker of English, there is always an opportunity to learn new English words and expressions. At the moment, for example, I have this book on my music stand: “Mastering the Flute with William Bennett” by Roderick Seed (Indiana University Press). I study it with great interest before or after my flute practices. Then, next to my computer, I have “Fundamentals of Musical Composition” by Arnold Schoenberg, edited by Gerald Strang with the collaboration of Leonard Stein. I like to read and study actual paper books, where I can write my notes and highlight important ideas to remember. On my nightstand, I have three books: a book in Latvian, my first language, a book about jazz: “Notes and Tones. Musician-to-Musician Interview” by Arthur Taylor, published by Da Capo Press, and finally “Lost in Translation. A Life in a New Language” by Eva Hoffman.
Books are a great way to communicate and keep in touch with fellow musicians and students. And they make a wonderful gift. Back in the ‘90s, when I lived in Latvia, i received a gift-book from a composer living in the US, Dace Aperāne: “Solos for Jazz Flute”, with transcriptions of outstanding jazz flute solos by Buddy Collette, Herbie Mann, Sam Most, Eric Dolphy, James Moody, Paul Horn, Hubert Laws, Joe Farrell, Jeremy Steig, James Newton, and Dave Valentin. As I was learning improvisation by only listening to recordings, and information about jazz flutists was not otherwise available to me, this book became my first official resource to learn about jazz flutists. I did know about jazz flutists from recordings, but that was about it. Years later, I met Jeremy Steig in New York City and we jammed together. I got to know Jeremy and his wife before they moved to Japan. But I got my first impression about his life and music from the book “Solos for Jazz Flute”.
Self-discipline is of utmost importance in a performer’s personal growth. The focus to play music is achieved through discipline. Music directs your focus on what you are doing in the moment, forget everything else.
Only by playing and making “mistakes”, you get better. It’s as simple as that. There is no substitute for practice. And, by the way, there is no penalty for making mistakes! Mistakes are part of growth. Just stay focused, trust yourself, and exercise self-awareness.
Going to concerts and listening to live music (different interpretations and creative expressions) are also a huge part of a musician’s self growth. I believe that music performance is one of the most amazing phenomena one can experience. And the collaboration with accomplished performers and composers is priceless.
I find that lately technology is my healthy obsession (e.g. music notation software, Logic Pro, video editing, etc.) Technology opens up amazing opportunities and possibilities to our lives. But just like anything else, it’s a time-consuming pleasure.
So, it’s all about balance (between body and mind, between creativity and structure, between fun and work, between playing an instrument and playing with technology, between business and music) and about priorities. Therefore, clarify your goals and move forward accordingly.
I would like to end this short article about self-growth as a musician with a quote from a wonderful jazz saxophone player and educator, Bill Pierce: “Keep listening without preconditions. And every playing moment counts…”