The absent-minded maestro was racing up New York’s Seventh Avenue to a rehearsal, when a stranger stopped him. “Pardon me,” he said, “can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” “Yes,” answered the maestro breathlessly. “Practice!”E.E. Kenyon
A banjo friend recently commented to me that most banjo convention workshop attendees come to those workshops desperately hoping to be sprinkled with fairy dust; “Presto-change-o! You are now a banjo master!” Try as I might, I have yet to figure out how to provide the wished-for dusting!
I have however found my own self-generated source of fairy dust; you can’t have any of it. It came from the last place I ever thought to look; from deep within myself. It’s called “dedication.” Knowing that nobody could possibly teach me like I can teach me has put the responsibility for advancement squarely on my shoulders. Studying the music of the past-masters (the best, most-natural template available, in my opinion) on my own terms is probably better than if I had had them teach me in person. Nobody understands my learning style (aka, “how to get it through my thick skull!”) better than myself.
No teacher can “teach” you a darn thing (at least not without your permission and cooperation); all they can do is facilitate your learning, and guide you to your own answers. The actual learning is entirely on you. All I can do is let my light shine (such as it is), and hope that others are inspired by it. A famous Zen proverb says that “the teacher appears when the student is ready.” Well, the opposite is true as well; “the student appears when the teacher is ready.” This is a two-way street.
The most important thing that I have learned from my self-education (and my often-vain attempt to teach others) is that I learn something new every day (whether I realize it or not). Because I see things through musical eyes and hear them through musical ears, I see and hear musical lessons all around me, even in the most mundane things.
Some frustrating days I don’t feel like I’ve learned a darn thing, but then I realize this: None of us are the same person today that we were yesterday; we are a day older and a day more experienced, after all! Because I believe that I learn something new every day, I do! I am able to see the tiny, incremental changes in the way I perceive and play music and live my life. Sometimes it takes several days—or even weeks—for the learning to accumulate to the point of notice, but that can still be traced to my daily work and practice.
It would be easy to think “I’m a day older and a day closer to the grave” (as many do), but it’s just as easy (and certainly much healthier) to go with the one-day-more-experienced angle! That choice of attitude is also entirely up to each of us. I know and cheerfully accept that I will have to die someday, so I am not focused on that; why rush it? The day I give up learning is the day that I begin to die.
Is the banjo worthy of all this esoteric thought and effort? Of course it is! It is a musical instrument, after all. I know that many folks play the banjo to relax and socialize—to let their hair (such as it is) down after a frustrating day of pursuing whatever it is that makes them tick (or at least pays the bills). The banjo—and my advancement on it—is what makes me tick! For me, relaxation and socialization are natural by-products of playing, not the reason to play.
So, I will never give up, never “rest on my laurels” (whatever those are)! I will always be a flawed, incomplete human being (as we all are), seeking completeness while hoping to never actually “find” it. Trust me, none of us are in any danger of learning all there is to know about music (or even just the banjo); the more you learn, the more you realize just how little you know! It’s so much bigger than I am, and very humbling. Anyway, there’s my fairy dust; where’s yours?