I have been thinking a lot lately about choices, in terms of life and in terms of being a Brave musician. So, I thought I would dive into this a little bit on the blog. I believe that as humans we like to have choices in life so that we can assess whether or not something is good for us by comparing it to something else. The challenge, of course, is when we have too many choices and we get overwhelmed and shut down. On the flip side, not having a choice, even in small seemingly insignificant ways, can leave us feeling disillusioned, frustrated, and un-empowered. Brave Musician is all about empowerment, and I think at the core of empowerment is the freedom to choose.
Sometimes our ability to make choices involve others. We have all dealt with people who are either “my way or the highway” or “that’s how it’s always been done.” They surface in many aspects of life - parents, bosses, band directors, religious leaders, politicians, teachers, and many others. I know that I have dealt with people like that and at times in the past, I have been that person. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. I believe what I have learned is that it generally comes from a place of fear and that it’s not necessary. We always have choices, even when we feel like we don’t. That includes the choice we make ourselves and the choices we offer others. Approaching things with curiosity and without judgement has helped me tremendously.
As educators, band leaders, innovators, as part of a relationship, as students, entrepreneurs, humans we all have choices that we have to make all the time. And feeling like you don’t have a choice can be one of the most frustrating feelings ever. Allowing ourselves and those around us, to make decisions can be really helpful in growing trust, connection, and empowering each other. But in order to do that, we have to let go of the need to control - ourselves and those around us.
One of the ways I do this as an educator is like this. I have a concept that I want the students to learn. The concept is the important thing, but how they learn it may be more open-ended. So, I give them a choice on how they want to learn it. We both win. The concept gets learned (my win) and the students get a choice in how they learn it (student win). I know it may seem like there are things out there that “have to be done a certain way” but I encourage you to really think about that deeply before settling on that fact.
Because if there is anything that I have learned working closely with Marina and learning about Design Thinking and Innovation, it’s that no single way of doing things in the best or only way. There isn’t a problem out there that doesn’t have a solution. With a little creative, out-of-the-box thinking, anything can be done.
With that, I want to leave you with three music-related choices that I believe everyone should be allowed to have:
What instrument you learn to play. We have two problems when it comes to letting people decide what instrument to play - the genderization of instruments, and putting the needs of the ensemble first. While improvement is being made, the out-dated and false notion of certain instruments are for boys and certain instruments are for girls is still a thing in some places (which doesn’t even address non-binary or gender fluidity). If you’re a teacher, let people play whatever they want to play, let them at least try it. And if, as a musician, you want to play something, anything - do it. There’s a reason you are drawn to it, so go explore. And if you need to find a different place to make music, go find that place as well.
How the music can be played. As a band leader (or ensemble director, private teacher, etc), give the people you are leading choices about the music. It doesn’t have to be “my way or the highway”. Sure, some people just want to be told what to do, but I think the vast majority of musicians want to contribute to the music being made in a meaningful way. If you’re working with novice groups even something as simple as “do you want to play loud or soft there?” can be an empowering question.
What songs to play. When I’m bandleading, I get to choose what songs are on the setlist. It’s one of the bonuses of being in charge. But I always ask the people in my band if they have anything they’d like to bring in as well. I do this because I want to grow and I surround myself with people who know different things that I do. I appreciate what they bring to the group and I value their opinion. We have cut songs that I loved because it wasn’t working for everyone.
No one in life ever wants to feel like they don’t have a choice. Choices can powerful, even the wrong ones. Here at Brave Musician, Marina and I give each other choices as part of our plan ideas and discussions all the time and I’m so grateful for that.