Luck is not chance, it’s toil. Fortune’s expensive smile is earned. ~ Emily Dickinson

Mr. Ahrens teaches band & choir at Bear River High School in Grass Valley, CA.


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Music Life Lesson #2: Perseverance

Performing, listening to, and enjoying great music are their own rewards. But most people recognize that there are many additional life lessons learned while studying music. We discussed these lessons in a recent #MusEdChat session on Twitter. This series of blog posts contains my reflections on that discourse. [Click here for more information about using Twitter as a personal or professional learning network.]

Life Lesson #2: Perseverance (Overcoming Failures)

My previous post spoke of discipline and work ethic being lessons gained through the study of music. Perseverance is an outgrowth of those strengths. Regardless of the amount of one’s focused attention to the details of perfecting a craft, failure is inevitable. Not complete failure, of course, but small failures daily and larger ones from time to time. Our humanity ensures these struggles.

So why do we continue on? What drives us, in the face of defeat, to continue? There are a number of things that compel me. I am inspired by great music, great performers, and great performances. In teaching, I’m inspired by the idea of sharing these things with my students. The music itself is a force in my life. There is a natural high that comes from creating something of excellence. For me, being part of a large ensemble – in the midst of all the players – during an outstanding performance is one of the greatest experiences I know. But there are times, usually during individual practice, that I am not as motivated to continue. There are times when my perseverance weakens – usually due to distraction or boredom. We are conditioned to reject those distractions and move forward.

@MrAhrens: But we learn to overcome failures and continue pursuing successes. There’s still the rest of the Symphony to be played!

There are very few, if any, perfect performances. We learn from early on to attempt to fix problems as we perform, and then to put them behind us and to finish the song.  We learn to not allow errors to trip us up, marring the remainder of the concert. Pushing forward in the face of adversity becomes a part of our character. This translates directly to other areas in our lives. Perseverance is a lesson that the study of music teaches.

@MinorMusic: Practice makes perfect.

MinorMusic brings up the classical example of perseverance paying off in the long run. I don’t really believe in musical perfection (there’s always something that could be done better) so I have a slightly modified version of this saying up on the wall of my band room. It reads: Practice makes Better; No Practice makes No Better. It’s the same idea, of course. We want our students to practice! And a solitary practice room can be an intimidating place. And a boring one. Students need to be taught why they need to practice, how to practice, and how to persevere in practicing even when the situation may not seem ideal.

I have a student who, as a freshman, tried out for a multi-state regional honor band. She didn’t make it. The audition music was perhaps a bit too difficult and under-practiced. Also, her primary instrument is piano and she was trying out on flute. She was determined to make it the following year, but was again turned down. Her audition that 2nd year was better; I believe I’ve had flute students qualify with the same level work in the past. Yet she didn’t quit. She really wanted this. So, for a 3rd year she recorded an audition. She improved considerably, but was again denied. While she was extremely frustrated and disappointed (and so was I!), she was determined to persevere. She recorded again this Fall and made it into one of the top groups. It would have been a great experience for her to have been at those other conferences, learning under the baton of those great clinicians. But the valuable lesson of sticking with it and feeling the joy of the eventual payoff is not something to be understated. There will be a time in her life where this lesson learned in band will play a pivotal role in her success over adversity.

This is part 2 of a 12 part series. Watch for part 3 coming soon.


[image: "warm up" by Flickr user: Mighty mighty bigmac.  Used under Creative Commons License]

The full series of Life Lessons:

  1. Work Ethic / Discipline
  2. Perseverance
  3. Listening
  4. Critical Thinking
  5. Getting Along
  6. Situational Awareness
  7. Personal Responsibility / Punctuality
  8. Self-Confidence
  9. Leadership
  10. Setting Goals
  11. Connecting Emotion
  12. The Love of Music