Thursday, May 9, 2013

Noble Motivation

My dad is undoubtedly the hardest worker I've ever met in my life. He's a stonemason, something his dad taught him and his four brothers. The picture above is one of his masterpieces - a house he built made of 100% stone. His brothers won't admit it, but he's definitely the best among them, and probably the best stonemason in Utah. The thing that sets him apart from others is his amazing attention to detail, and the touch that causes his projects to turn into an artistic tapestry, rather than a bare wall with stones pasted onto it. Not only is he incredibly quick at what he does, but he's incredibly strong as well. I still remember when I was about 10 years old and I was at work with him.  Weighing in at only 180 pounds, he can lift over twice his body weight, and I recall him hoisting some 300-400 pound corner pieces onto a wall by himself since his other worker was gone. I was in awe at this ox of a human being.

My brothers and I were frequently pawned off on him by my mom, who desperately needed a rest from us! My brother, Jared, and I would always be given the difficult tasks. My brother, Jordan, on the other hand, is the youngest brother, and my dad sympathizes with him since he was the youngest of all of his brothers as well. Jordan could often be found asleep in the sand pile while Jared and I were about to have a heart attack, trying to keep up with the millions of "necessary" tasks given to us, probably meant more to keep us occupied rather than to help him on the job site. One of our favorite jobs he would give us - a huge rest from mixing mud, hauling rock, or setting up scaffolding - was to go and find nails. Jared and I would often hit the jackpot, finding boxes and boxes of nails that had been "abandoned" by the framers or carpenters. We would fill the back of his truck with them, only to be disappointed when he informed us that when nails were still packaged nicely into boxes, they weren't up for grabs. This would result in us going back to hauling rock, with my dad probably sighing that he was ever foolish enough to trust a 10 year old and 7 year old to accomplish much of anything. The most glorious and holy words of the day were only uttered after we were completely exhausted - "Boys! Put on the tailgates! We're done!" Putting those tailgates on the back of the truck was sweeter than any amount of money we were getting paid, even with the generous 2 or 3 dollars per hour we would earn for our "help".

Although I have many anxiety-filled memories of working construction with my dad, he has taught me many great lessons. When I was fifteen, I told him I hated doing stonemasonry, and that I would give anything to do anything else. He said, "Either you can work with me, or you can start your own business. I don't want you working at McDonalds." I immediately set out on building the biggest piano studio possible, terrified that if I didn't have enough students he would make me go back to being a mindless mule - unloading an entire truck of rock, only to immediately begin loading it back onto the truck again. I grew to love teaching piano more than I probably ever would have, since it got me out of the 100 degree heat of Utah summers, teaching others what I love doing most.

Fast forward about ten years, and I was talking to him over the kitchen table. I said "Dad, even though our businesses are quite different in nature, they are in essence the same. You and I both love doing what we do, and we're both pretty good at what we do. But, our jobs are pretty similar day to day. You're doing something artistic, but how do you keep motivation? What keeps you going? What makes you want to wake up and do another fireplace, another mailbox, another house? What drives you? Is it the money? Ultimately, money doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. How do you get out of the monotony of everyday tasks?"

He proceeded to teach me one of the most significant lessons of my adult life.

"Josh, it's not about the money. It's not about finishing the job. It's not even about the challenge of seeing how quick I can finish something, how hard I can work, how much I can accomplish. It's much more than that. Every day, I set out with one goal in mind - how artistic can I be today? What can I do to challenge myself as an artist? How can I improve my craft and skill  to create something even more beautiful than the day before?"

I have found this to be the most noble motivation I've ever applied to my daily practice and teaching. Rather than enduring a student's lesson that's not going well, I think, "What is it that is causing this student to not succeed with this task? What analogy can I give them that will motivate them to do better? How can I inspire them? How can I help them to be more artistic and noble in their thinking?" These are some of the greatest challenges I've encountered as a pianist - how I can get someone else to feel the sacred and divine qualities of a piece of music? Once a student loves something, they almost always succeed. But, how can I foster and nourish that love within them? How can I bring out the composer's lofty intent for the piece they are playing, especially when the student is not an advanced player? Nothing is more sweet than seeing them catch the fire of passion, seeing them understand and teach themselves. Similarly, in my own practice, it is a constant experiment. How can I make this passage sing? How can I make it weep? How can I make it sound like it's yearning for something in the past, or in the future? How can I convey the pain of this passage, or the joy of this phrase? In other words, how artistic can I become? This is undoubtedly the most noble motivation there is - connecting the physical with the spiritual, elevating the ordinary to a level of such serene and spiritual purity that one cannot help but marvel at the beauty they behold.

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