When I’m up on the bandstand, I actually have to play with twice as many people as are up there. I have to play with the musician I hear. I also have to play with the musician they think they are.
Every band-member believes they are a certain kind of musician with skills and qualities they prize or despise. Depending on how honest or self-aware they are, what they think of themselves may have little or nothing to do with their actual skills and qualities. A lot of times people need to believe they’re better or worse than they are, and they insist on maintaining that identity in the face of any evidence to the contrary.
If you decide not to reinforce their self-delusion it doesn’t really fly. There’s usually too much dissonance between what they think they are and what they actually are. The result is that they feel you are not playing with them at all, and they will resent it or resist.
But you can’t decide only to deal with their self-delusion either, to swallow their self-proclaimed identity whole. If you do, you’ll be participating in the lie, and when the lie breaks down you’ll be right there in the middle of it. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it would be performing difficult music onstage with someone who believes they’re amazing, when everyone can hear they’re really not?
When I’m in this situation, which is always, I have to walk that line between the musician they think they are and the one they show themselves to be. I have to honor their aspirations (or their self-imposed limitations) by playing along with their identity. At the same time, I have to play and respond to the music they are actually making and try to create art out of it.
I’d like to suggest that this phenomenon doesn’t just happen between bandmates. It’s just possible it happens all the time. Part of being human.
Your parents, your siblings, your children, your friends, your teachers, your students, your bosses and coworkers, everyone has an idea they’re preserving of themselves, and a reason for doing so. I do it too. I am two people on the bandstand.
The tension between the imagined self and the presented self has an upside. It can produce results that pure honesty can’t, such as when we aspire to be greater than we are and then have to live up to the aspiration. It can also prove disastrous when the distance between the two is too great.
If we as friends, family, people can support the dissonance of our loved ones because we know it might pull them into a greater identity, we are doing a loving act. But what if the two identities are too far apart? Should we ever burst someone’s balloon?
If we support a person in the moment when they see how far they are from their ideal, then we are doing an even greater act of compassion. That support in the end is more powerful than pure honesty. It helps someone see for themselves the difference, and when they see it, they can handle it.
News From a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books
I have been included in two new articles on my Press Tab, one about music at work, and one by Martha Stewart Weddings about being married for more than 20 years!
The most extraordinary news I got this week was an invitation. In 2004 I wrote an article about Mathematics and the Feldenkrais Method. As a result of that article, I have been invited to present on this very subject at a conference at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in October! Needless to say, I'm very excited to get to talk to people about a little-discussed topic that fascinates me, and I'll be blogging and videoing whatever I can.
Adam Cole is a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books. Author, educator and performer, Adam chats weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and living your best life. To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net