“Don’t think of the moment when you throw away a reed as a point of failure. Think of it as a point of release, because that reed is out of your life forever.”
As discussed before, having had a fatalistic attitude toward making reeds, I would go for unconscionably long stretches without making any. Half of the solution was committing myself to a regular schedule of reed-making—the pipeline. The other half was an attitude shift.
The above is advice Ben Kamins gave to me during one of my summers at the Music Academy of the West. Over time, it has revolutionized my concept of success and failure in reed-making. I no longer measure success by the number of reeds that pan out. My feeling of competence has nothing to do with whether or not any particular piece of cane turns into a usable reed. Moreover, if I’m making reeds regularly, I’m rarely so desperate as to be wholly dependent on the outcome of a single day’s work.
Instead, I derive the most satisfaction from clarifying where I stand. Sure, confirming that I have some good pieces of cane is great, but so is weeding out those pieces of cane that will never, ever pan out. We’ve all had the experience of hacking away at reeds that simply won’t change. While the time spent on those can easily become frustrating, I'd rather find comfort in throwing them in the trash. (Incidentally, that’s the eventual fate of all of my reeds, except for the few on which I won jobs, which I keep for sentimental reasons.) I love knowing, at the end of the day, that I’ve narrowed the field to only my best prospects.
Even in “dry spells,” this attitude, coupled with my annual reed experiment, gives me the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve collected data and reconfirmed a standard for what’s acceptable and what isn’t. There's a certain comfort in ruthlessly adhering to that standard.