My favorite thing about writing is that it’s permanent. I write, I refine, and when I’m satisfied with what I’ve written, I post it. From that point on, it is unchanging—whatever level I attained will remain perpetually unchanged. Not so with music. Music requires continual reinvention, constant proving of oneself. The old axiom, “A musician is only as good as his [or her] last performance” is devastatingly true. So our primary goal, in every aspect of our performance, is consistency.
By consistency I don’t mean playing exactly the same, night after night. In a way, consistency is simply the groundwork for the ability to embrace the constantly-shifting nature of making live music. As I asked in my last post, why do we spend so much time on scales and long tones and etudes, on self-reflection and reed-making, on internalizing the language of music? To enable our deeper musical abilities. The sensitivity to adapt is facilitated by the confidence that comes from a firm foundation.
This goal defines what it means to be professional: the ability to make music at a high level, night after night. In our pursuit to consistently attain this level, I believe the majority of our work is not aimed at improving our best performances. Although they do undeniably improve over time, most of our day-to-day work is focused on improving our base level (or, more negatively, our worst) performances. From technical woodshedding to quantifying and recreating musical inspiration, our goal, through all the sweat and tears (and, if you make reeds, occasional blood), is to improve our worst days to the point that they are indistinguishable from our best days—perfect consistency. Ultimately impossible? Yes, but it’s sure to keep us occupied.