Image source: http://www.firstpeople.us/
Maybe you’ve heard this one: “You don’t have to be faster than the bear. You just have to be faster than the slowest guy running from the bear.”
In the case of a bear, clearly as long as the bear doesn’t get you, then you’ve made the satisfactory amount of effort. But suppose your goal was to be the fastest runner out there. The question is, “Why would you want that?”
Is there any point in outrunning everyone when the bear can only catch one person? Does being the fastest make you feel extra safe? Or does your goal have nothing to do with the bear?
If what you want has nothing to do with the bear, that’s silly. The bear is clearly your main concern. If you tire yourself out needlessly, you may very well become the slowest without meaning to.
When is enough enough? This question is applicable to piano performance as well as running for your life. Are you going to practice six hours or ten a day?
And not only practicing. What piece are you going to play on the concert, assuming you have a choice? The hardest one you can master?
I’ve always found it very hard not to try to be “brilliant.” I’ve picked pieces that were too hard for me, and I’ve worried about mistakes that may not have been relevant to my audience.
But isn’t it a poor work ethic to decide not to try your absolute best? I think that question is deceptive. The real question is, what is your relationship to the audience you will be playing for?
Imagine a concert pianist playing the last Beethoven sonata (which is really hard and really long, and only the best pianists can play it at all) for an audience of 5 year olds at a preschool. Her brilliance probably isn’t appropriate there, because most likely the length of the music alone will bore the children no matter how well it’s played. On the other hand, if she’s really brilliant, she’ll find a way instead to create the most inspiring performance of a piece they can appreciate.
The true measure of “brilliance” isn’t in showing off, it’s in creating a relationship with an audience that pulls them as high as it’s possible for them to go. So yes, she has to inspire them…she can’t just play any old thing without trying. But she has to put her effort into connecting with them, not in playing the hardest piece she can.
Not only does this kind of thinking ensure that you do the right amount of work, it returns the focus where it ought to be: away from you, and onto the intersection between you and your audience. That way you don’t risk getting eaten by the bear. Not a brilliant blog topic, I suppose, but do you get it?