tourist, lost in the Lower East Side, asks
an elderly man, "How
do I get to Carnegie Hall?"
The old fellow
gazes at him for a long moment and replies, "Practice!
There are a lot of people with talent, who
for want of ambition and stick-to-it-iveness
never amount to a hill of beans. Talent is
necessary, but not sufficient. What you need
is good teachers, a desire to succeed and lots
and lots of practice. Unsupported, undeveloped
talent won't get you far. Remember the
fable of the race between the tortoise and
the hare: a mediocre slogger will get farther
than a lazy genius.
When the great king, Ptolomy
I, remarked to Euclid that he had a spare afternoon
and wished to learn the art of geometry, Euclid
there is no royal road to geometry." (Proclus,
Commentary on Euclid, Prologue) The one thing
we all have is a finite, equal amount of time.
And practice takes the same amount of time
for a king as for a peasant, and each gets
the exact same thing out of it: he gets better
at what he has been practicing. And only you
can do it, and no one else can do it for you,
and you get out exactly what you put in. Some
spend hour after hour in a pool hall, and in
consequence get really good at pool. The same
time spent practicing on a skateboard will
get you a number of fractures, assorted abrasions
and a great deal of skill on a skateboard.
The same devoted hours put into practicing
the piano will get you quite good at the piano.
The thing about practice is that it takes time,
lots of time. Time you could spend on something
else. Time that once flown will never return
to you. Time that you could spend, like Miniver
Cheevy, wishing instead of acting.*
calls many, and chooses a few. The Muse wants
it all, though. You don't pick her, she picks
you, and if she picks you and you don't come
running with everything you can offer, for
the rest of your life you'll wonder what you
might have become.
of a musician is marked with perils and disasters
in plenty, and for all the hard work not all
that much dough, not much security, weeks away
from home, long late hours and plentiful opportunities
for self destruction. But you do get to make
music for a living.
But whether you become a
full-time musician or one of those folks that
sports the cheerily rueful bumper sticker, "Real
musicians have day jobs," and whether you aspire
to Carnegie Hall or the church choir, you still
have to "Practice! Practice!"
* Edward Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), Miniver