If, one year from now, you were to give yourself an 'A' grade for how you showed up in life as a person, partner, conductor, teacher - who would you have become to earn it?
'Giving an A' is a practice from Ben Zander & Roz Stone's book The Art of Possibility. Tired of students holding themselves back in a musical interpretation class for fear of judgement and how they would eventually be graded, Ben invented the practice of Giving them an A:
"Each student in this class will get an A for the course...However there is one requirement you must fulfil to earn this grade: Sometime during the next two weeks, you must write me a letter dated next May, which begins with the words "Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because..." and in this letter you are to tell, in as much detail as you can, the story of what will have happened to you by next May that is in line with this extraordinary grade"
After my powerful lesson with Ben (which you can read about here, then here) I decided that writing my own A letter might help me embody a new self.
Here is my A letter.
11 May 2021
I got an A because I went on a challenging and rewarding journey of learning how to be fully myself. Before, I was afraid to share my artistry, opinions and self with the world. I hid from uncomfortable things, and ran away from making others uncomfortable too.
I realised this fear was holding me back, so I decided to ditch it!
Now, I am fully myself in the world and in my music-making. I’m not afraid to show people who I am and what I believe. I am unapologetic about what I have to share. I know that I have a unique and valuable contribution to make.
I am able to fully express myself and all my emotions, rather than running from them or stuffing them away. Now I speak honestly, unflinchingly, and listen openly to others.
I am certain and confident of my value to myself and to others. I stopped judging myself, and let go of my fear of discomfort and mistakes. In fact, I now embrace mistakes as a vital part of growing and learning.
Each day I wake up enthusiastic about learn something new. In the past I was daunted, but now I am excited! I jump into scores with curiosity and wonder at what I will discover. I know that each minute I spend brings me closer to understanding the musical gift a composer has entrusted to me.
I know I’ll never know it all, and that used to scare me. Now, instead of being afraid, I’m joyous that there will always be something more for me to know - a never-ending artistic bounty! And as I learn, I know that each day I’m growing - and that I couldn’t get whereI’m going, or be who I am without all the days that have come before.
After many years living small -
A tender, fragile, sapling
I’ve now grown into my true form
A sleek, strong, majestic tree
When the wind is blowing a gale,
I bend but don’t break.
With each storm I weather
My roots grow deeper and I grow stronger
I hold myself tall and upright with these roots
I am beautiful
Giving shade, protection, and comfort to those around me
While staying true to my nature
Every day, slowly but surely,
I keep growing upwards and outwards,
Reaching toward possibility
What would you write in your A letter, dated one year from now?
Check out the Expressive Conducting Workshop (July 4-5) where we'll be becoming better conductors and people, together.
A simple approach to instantly approach every piece with more musicianship, storytelling and emotion - for us, and our ensembles!
Want to go from being a human metronome to embodying all the emotions in the music? We need to know the music, and know ourselves.
The vast majority of our musical training is spent in pursuit of an impossible perfection. Deluged by the demands of technique, we forget the entire purpose of our art is to connect. To move people. To change people.