What makes a master?

What makes a master?

I know we’re still getting to know each other HHF (Helen’s Hankering Friend) and today I’m going to reveal a big part of what made Helen, Helen. Way back in the 5th grade I had to choose an instrument to play in middle school. The week before I had to choose, a gentleman in my church played a cello solo and I knew right then and there that the cello was for me. My mom was worried that I was going to be playing such a big instrument and asked if the flute would be a better choice, but my mind was made up. Over 30 years later, Charlie and I are still making music and I love sitting down and hearing his beautiful low majestic notes. Yes, my cello is named Charlie. I figured if Yo-Yo Ma named his $2.5 million Montagnana cello Petunia, I could name mine too.

At the beginning of August 2018, I was able to see one of my favorite performers at Red Rocks Amphitheater: Yo-Yo Ma. This concert kicked off a two-year tour to perform the suites in 36 locations around the world. The concert also includes 36 days of action where The Bach Project explores and celebrates all the ways that culture makes us strong as individuals, as communities, as a society and as a planet.

This historic and extraordinary event played to a sold out crowd (9,000 people.) This is Ma’s third recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for solo cello and it reflected his six-decade relationship with this music when he started playing the cello at age four. I was privileged to see his last Bach tour when he stopped by the Boettcher Concert Hall when I was in college.

Red Rocks is usually associated with concerts full of guitar riffs, crazy lighting, drum solos and the house of rock ’n roll, but for that one evening it was just one man on a huge stage playing for over two hours. My jaw dropped when I sat down in my seat and looked at the stage to find one chair sitting there. Once he started playing, he held the audience captive and you could have heard a pin drop. His passion, love, and technical greatness had us all holding our breath and his bow flying over the strings. He made it look so easy!

I loved watching his facial expressions. You could tell when a technically difficult piece was coming because he’d hunker down, but when he smiled…when he smiled Petunia’s voice soared over the audience.

The other miracle was as he was churned out hundreds of thousands of notes—he played all of the Suites from memory. Also with no intermission so he could take a brake. Think about that. How familiar would you have to be with something for you to be able to do it for over two hours all from memory without a break? Yea, nothing here.

So I ask myself—what makes a true master? I discovered Robert Greene who wrote a wonderful book called Mastery. Here are 5 steps to follow:

  1. Discovery Your calling—reconnecting to your roots
    To reconnect to your roots, follow Greene’s strategies for finding your calling:
  • Return to your origins: Many masters discovered their inclinations during childhood. What were you obsessed with when you were young? What sparked your creativity?
  • Occupy the perfect niche: Find a field where your skills can flourish.
  • Avoid the false path: Do not be seduced to a field for wealth, popularity, or pressure from family and friends. Be honest about your interests, and have the courage to pursue them.
  • Let go of the past: Your past decisions do not reflect who you are and should not weigh you down. If something feels wrong, quit.
  • Find your way back: You’ll encounter many hardships throughout your journey. If you decide to quit, you can always return.

2. Skill Acquisition—Practice and experiment
Gather as many “recipes” as possible. Recipes can be instructions from class, blogs, books, teachers. etc. Keep in mind to focus only on one skill at a time, this wills serve as a foundation for others. Yo-Yo Ma didn’t just get up and play the Bach cello suites perfectly the first time he got the music. It took hours and years of lessons, practice, technique, etc. to get him on that stage.

3. Choose a mentor
A mentor can focus full attention on helping you better assess your skills, deconstruct rules and guidelines and accelerate your learning. This is why I encourage my daughters to take lessons in whatever activity they want to pursue. Right now it’s gymnastics and pole-vaulting. I have now clue how to do any of this, but I found awesome people who do and are teaching my girls and feeding their passion. I found my mentor in my cello teacher that I had all throughout middle and high school.

4. Awaken a dimensional mind
As you accumulated more skills and internalize the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge or skill in ways that are more suite to your inclinations. Allow for Serendipity, alter your perspective and revert to other forms of communication rather than the written language.

5. Attaining Mastery
Attaining mastery requires fusing the intuitive with reality. Once this happens work becomes alive and you will want to forever expand your craft.

  • Internalize the Details — The Life Force: See your work as something alive. Study and absorb its details to the point where you can feel it expressed effortlessly.
  • Submit to the Other — The Inside Out Perspective: Surrender your ego, and allow others to input their perspective. It’s valuable feedback.
  • Synthesize all forms of knowledge — The Universal Man/Woman: Extend your knowledge to unknown territory. By breaking away from convention, you will be able to a test new creative ideas and inch closer to becoming a master of your craft.

As the girls and I were walking to our car, I couldn’t begin to describe the concert we had just witnessed. My daughter looked at me and said, “I now know why you play the cello mom.” She saw it–a true master at his craft.

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