Gratitude: The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
The end of another academic year and orchestral season has come and I feel extraordinarily grateful to be able to do what I do. I love being a musician, inspiring students, and helping others. It seemed appropriate to express these feelings on teacher appreciation week.
If you read my blog, you already know the immense gratitude I feel for the principal teachers in my life; Clem Barone, John Barcellona, Robert Patrick, Anne Zentner, and my Dad, Santo Urso. These giants are with me in my practice room every day. I would not be where I am today if not for them. Their knowledge and generosity goes way beyond simply playing the flute; these pearls of wisdom were and continue to be a life lessons.
We may not achieve all the things we set out to do in the beginning of our journey. Our paths twist and turn and take us in directions we never imagined, but ultimately were meant to take. Winning a big job in a top orchestra, being appointed to a full-time professor position at a major school of music, or whatever road you mapped out and thought you were on, ultimately doesn’t define you. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you’re a good person and that you keep going. Why? Because you love what you do. What else matters? Integrity, passion, honesty, loyalty, work ethic, love of the music, telling the story – these are things my mentors and teachers taught me and these are the things I strive to pass along to my students.
With commencement around the corner, graduates can’t help but reflect back on the past 4 + years of their lives. Looking ahead to the unknown road before you students continue on your journey, here’s my .2 cents:
Be kind to yourself. These are words you often hear but I can’t say it enough. Be kind to yourself. We musicians beat ourselves up in the practice room; “…It’s not fast/slow/soft/loud/musical enough, I’m not good enough…” First of all, you are good enough. Secondly, as for the faster/higher/louder, you have the tools you need to fix those things. So, roll up your sleeves and do the work. There’s no substitute or short cut. Growth as an artist isn’t like cramming for a US History exam, it’s a process, and one that you must learn to love. In doing so, speak well of you to you. It’s amazing the things we say to ourselves in the practice room that we would never ever say to anyone else. Be kind. Always.
Be patient with the process. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Working things out takes time. Like I said, there are no short cuts. If you have to learn a 14 page concerto with a crazy difficult third movement that is marked quarter note = 327, you know what you need to do. How would you advise a student or colleague to work it out? And, what language would you use when expressing that? (see above). When working something out slowly, after however many times through it, it will naturally begin to get easier, more fluid, less clunky. Trust me, it will. Feeling less than 100% inspired? Take whatever time necessary to figure out what you need to do to regain that spark. Then, let go and trust the process.
Be open to all of the possibilities. We have no idea where the road will take us. We might think we do, but we don’t. Try to enjoy the unknown, unplanned, unmapped world of total possibility. Be open and be ready. My Dad used to say “Opportunity will knock, it might only be once, so be ready.” Truer words were never spoken. I could tell you a dozen different stories to support this statement, the last-minute call to sub with this orchestra or that orchestra, for example. Bottom line: be ready and be open to all of it.
Express your sincere gratitude. I’m not suggesting that you suck up to the personnel manager, principal clarinetist, or whomever offers you that last minute golden opportunity. Express sincere gratitude. Yes, you’re the one doing the work in the practice room, but you don’t get there on your own. There are people along the way, sometimes behind the scenes, who help you with a recommendation or kind word to the the right person, give selflessly to you to help you improve and be your very best, offer advice when you feel lost, give you extra lessons for free, whatever the case, be gracious and thankful to these people. Stop right now and ask yourself who these people are in your life. Have you expressed gratitude to them? If not, do it now. Write them a note, a real note, not a text. Pick up the phone and give them a call to say hello, see what’s new in their lives, and say thank you. Karma begets karma.
The 2018-19 orchestra season ended a little earlier for me this year as I’m planning my wedding and giving myself the gift of time off to do so. A few weeks ago I was lucky to enjoy the super bloom from my Subaru windows as I made my way up and down the state of California for work. Seriously, the 5 and 99 freeways have never been more beautiful. It reminded once again how fortunate I am to make my living as an orchestral flutist, university professor, and body mapping specialist. Thank you to my teachers Clem, John, Bob, Anne, and Dad, as well as my family, friends, and colleagues who continue to inspire me every day. I’m so grateful for you all.