Monday, October 10, 2011

The Path of an Artist

An AMAZING paper from one of my idols, Allan McMurray:

The common level of commitment is that of the participant. The music participant enjoys the experience of getting together with friends and engaging in the events. The participant is conscientious about rehearsal times, works to learn the music in rehearsal, and is interested in being a good section member. The participant likes music with a good beat.

The next level is that of a player (or singer). The player/singer is a person who loves music because it gives him/her a chance to play. The player wants to play a lot and practices to achieve range and technique that can represent a great sound whenever the player plays. The player arrives early to practice his “licks” and wants great parts to play. In fact, the player judges music based on her/his part. If it’s a good part, it is a good piece of music; if it’s a bad part, it is a bad piece of music. The player likes solos and strives to be heard. The player loves her/his instrument and enjoys getting together with other “players.” The player will learn her/his part outside of rehearsals so s/he can sound good in rehearsals.

The third level is that of the musician. The musician plays her/his instrument well and shows up to rehearsals with her/his part mastered. The musician loves chamber music and ensemble because of the opportunity for musical collaboration. The musician does not come to rehearsal to learn her/his own part; the musician comes to rehearsal to learn everyone else’s part. In that way, the musician is learning how to play together by concentrating on intonation, articulation, phrasing, blend, balance, and style. The musician is about listening, learning, and collaborating with other musicians. The musician evaluates whether or not a piece of music is good by the sounds that are created by everyone and enjoys listening as much as playing. The musician likes being a contributing part of every rehearsal through collaboration.

Level 4 – Artist
The fourth level is that of the artist. The artist has all the skills of the player and the musician, but the artist is also a creator. The artist comes to every rehearsal prepared in every way and leaves every rehearsal with new goals. The artist loves great music making and loves to bring expression and inspiration to the performance. The artist has imagination that is fueled by opportunity. That opportunity might come in a solo passage or in an approach to style that amplifies the intent of the piece. The artist is a collaborator with the other members of the ensemble, with the conductor, and with the composer. The artist is intuitive and original, but only uses those skills in pursuit of the most beautiful performance possible. The artist evaluates whether or not a piece of music is good by how it is composed and what it expresses. The artist has the potential to elevate the listener’s perception of an average piece through an extraordinary performance. The artist loves music because music fuels her/his soul.

If it were only about choosing a level, then all performers and conductors would be artists. But it is not about choosing: it is about growing, listening, and surrounding oneself with great music, great books, great art, and great people. It is about informed intuition. It is about learning theory so the architecture and harmonic language can be heard in every melody. It is about knowing performance practice and style of music of all periods. It is about listening to challenging pieces by imaginative and original composers, and pushing the envelope of personal preference. It is about reflection on life, death, pain, celebration, passion, grief, and nature to understand and experience those things that inspire meaning in art. It is about learning to be at home in solitude and seeking it out. It is about beauty and spontaneity and imagination and spirituality. It is attempting to approach every sound and every silence every day as if it matters, because it does. It is recognizing that the pursuit of perfection is a lifelong goal and that it is unattainable. It is knowing that the artist’s life is not about a destination—it is about the journey.


  1. "In fact, the player judges music based on her/his part. If it’s a good part, it is a good piece of music; if it’s a bad part, it is a bad piece of music."

    So true. So true.

  2. I loved it all but the last 3 sentences were very beautiful.