Performance, Practice & Redefining Mistakes
Welcome to Lean Musician, where it’s all about doing more with less.
Tune in each episode for interviews top performers, composers, artists and producers. Hear about their journeys, how they think about music & their approach to what they do.
Today's guest William Westney is a concert pianist, professor at the University of Texas & the author of ‘The Perfect Wrong Note’ a book about - as the subtitle says - ‘rediscovering your musical self’. He’s a perfect guest for episode number one & of course that’s no accident.
During the episode we discuss his life’s work in education, as well as his deep exploration of practice & performance. At first glance, the concepts that William explores here are non-traditional, but as you will hear - they are from a tradition and musical wisdome that has been around for a long time.
“[mistakes] are not just about forgiving ourselves and saying ‘let me try that again’, it’s totally embracing the mistake and saying ‘what’s the information in that mistake?’”
“You have to make a thorough/physical commitment to every note”
(in thinking about how to practice) - “How can everything I do feel great?”
Jack: 00:00 Okay, so William, thank you very much for coming on the Lean Musician podcast. Number one. It's great to have you. I feel very blessed to have you on the podcast because especially on the first one because I feel like your work is. We wanted to put you on the first one because your work's kind of at the core of the way that we're starting to think about music. Me and Tom musician and um, yeah, just, it just felt like the right thing to do. So for those of you who haven't read your book or know your work, I'd love it if you could give us just a quick kind of summary of who you are, what you're up to and yeah, what did you do?
William: 00:35 Yes, well of course it's good. It's great delight for me to find out a book that I wrote can reach people in the way that it's reached to you and Tom, so that's wonderful to hear. I'm a concert pianist. I live in Texas now. I'm from New York originally. I'm a university professor and an active performer. I've been doing this using the university level for about 38 years. I tried to calculate that before we had our talk today and in recent decades I've gotten much more actively and seriously involved in the pedagogy side of things. Um, and uh, that's been a thrill of something I hadn't really perhaps anticipated quite that way, which led to the book and to the establishment of my workshops and other kinds of things that are, that are in a way non traditional and in some ways not, but I found I've been an become a voice for a certain kind of view, especially towards perfectionism and how to stay healthy mentally and physically in the face of the kind of quasi perfection we aspire to in music, especially classical music. Uh, that, um, that's been a privilege for me to find that I've been able to articulate and be heard and be part of the conversation pedagogically about some views that are not quite the accepted.
Jack: 01:59 Sure. And we will, we'll, we'll absolutely get into those. I'd love to talk about. I'm sure. Let's just go right back to the beginning and about you and when you started music, can you, can you remember any early memories? I mean,
William: 02:14 I wish I could remember or I guess most people do but, but have their very early years, but we had a baby grand piano in our house and that was a kind of a play thing for me, which was nice. Um, and um, I love to talk about my beginnings because I found them to be really Germane to everything that followed the older I get, the more I understand this to be the case. And it was just very lucky I think because, um, I was three years old and I was sort of an excitable three year old. I wasn't sort of hyperactive in any kind of problematic way, but um, my parents were told maybe this little kid needs to kind of an outlet for his energies, but they knew I was musically good. I had a good year and I could pick out tunes on the piano and stuff like that.
William: 03:06 Something was going on with me musically. And uh, my mother I think happened is just see a little sign in the butcher shop or something like that in our little neighborhood in Queens, New York where I grew up saying, you know, music class for three year olds, this turned out to be a class in, in Eurythmics and Dal Crows Eurythmics and we can get into that later. Anyway, it's a exciting and brilliantly conceived a music approach for any age really. But it certainly has been used most successfully with little kids who are physically in their bodies in a very joyous way. And they love to do playful things and they love to learn new things and they're very musical anyway. Anyone who hangs around, little three year olds knows that so many of them are, if not all, are musically very engaged with this fantastic way. As long as nothing comes along to remove that.
William: 04:03 So, um, uh, so that's it. That seemed to be the kind of thing that would maybe keep me occupied and gave me an outlet for right energies. And so off I went to Dell Crows class. So how long did you do those? For? Two years, two years, and then, yeah, and I kind of remember it. I think. I think I can picture the room that it was in. And so what I do remember is how much fun it was. I mean a fun and very in a very deep sense because you know, the essence of Dell crows not only does it positive that we can learn all about musical elements, rhythm and pitch and everything else in our whole body. But one of the main ideas about it is that it's playful. It tries to, you set up some games and you try to trick people and you try to be clever and see if they can be clever enough to follow you and all that.
William: 04:50 So it engages your sense of fun and play and, and intelligence to a in which you can do at any age. And so I loved that. I can still remember this sort of tingling feeling of excitement waiting for the next little part of the game to come along and see if I could on. Um, and so what I, and I've thought about this a lot in recent years and I think what that gave me was so lucky because it gave me the sense that doing challenging things, um, rigorous things in music is nothing but fun and a kind of a thrill and an excitement and a joy. So that was my sort of inoculation in a positive way into, to what music could be. And, and I think what that did, although I wasn't aware at the time, it sort of gave me the sense like anything that comes along in terms of musical learning that isn't joyous and fun and exciting aging is something wrong with it.
William: 05:49 So if I have a teacher who doesn't make me feel that way, something wrong with that teacher or an approach or whatever, it might be, just a great way to get introduced to the idea of, of music learning. So I started piano lessons at five and then I found that to be very, very easy transition. It was Dell Crows had, you know, made elements of rhythm and all of this and pitch so familiar to me that learning to read music and play the piano was just like a natural extension of all of that. So I always, it's hard to give advice to parents who ask, you know, about exactly what to do with little kids or that music training. But I find myself feeling safest by saying start with something that's holistic, like, like Dal crows or some of the other things that are out there. Kindermusik music garden, similar approaches that are not about performing and not about an instrument, not about doing it for the parents or anyone else, but just about experience.
Jack: 06:53 Right, right. For sure. So, so after that you, you started piano lessons and it sounds like the Dal crows and those piano lessons were a really good positive foundation, but I'm interested in what you say about how you kind of knew with that your foundation. You knew when you came across kind of tuition or you know, our philosophy, other people's philosophies of how to play and study music. That kind of jarred with you. What were, what were some of the later experiences of coming up against that and were there any challenges that you had?
William: 07:26 Well, I, yeah, I mean, I, I, I began playing the piano early and um, I seems rather precocious at it and the way that I could play with, you know, flow and maturity, but I wasn't very ambitious and I didn't progress all that much during my younger years. I didn't really have the aspiration to be a concert pianist and I was bored. I mean with the pe practicing thing and some of the teachers didn't quite know what to do with me. It wasn't terribly negative, but it was an exciting either and I didn't really know how to solve problems. So, um, I, I was lucky but a lot of things. And what, uh, what, um, uh, really changed it for me, it was by the time I got into college, I went to university at a, at a young age because of the way the school system worked in New York, sometimes people would be accelerated through the system.
William: 08:21 So I was only about 16 when I went to college. Um, and uh, it was an unusual situation because, uh, this was a public university, which at the time is a very fine school in New York City, but at the time it was a free tuition which is unusual in the state to residents of New York City, which meant that they couldn't afford to give us a actual lessons in the studio and performance even if you were a music major. So I wasn't doing a performance degree. I was doing just to kind of a general music degree, bachelor of Arts degree, really liberal arts degree at that point, which suited me fine. I don't really know where all this was leading professionally. And all they did at the university was they expected us in an informal way to be doing something with our, with performing studies on our own, not as part of the university program.
William: 09:14 And they wanted to hear everybody performs something at the end of each year. You'd go into a room and kind of a classroom and play or sing a few pieces for the faculty. And that was it. There was no teeth in it. They weren't getting into giving us a grade or anything, but they knew me by now. I'd been there for a year and kind of knew what I was capable of and I went in there and played a few nice pieces that classical pieces Schubert's something else, I forget what, but things that I knew I could always play very pleasingly and make an impression and you know, so I played them just fine. Very nice and waited for the accolades to rain down with us. Not at all. What happened? They just kind of gave me this funny look and said, well built. Do you have any plans to learn how to play the piano for real? If those weren't the exact words, it's pretty close. So in other words, what you're doing is not playing the piano for real. It's something else which is easy for you.
William: 10:12 What I loved about this, although it was very hard to live through at the moment, at the time, what I loved about it, it didn't tell me what I needed to do and like, oh, you ought to do this and you should do that. They weren't saying that at all, they're just playing, holding up a mirror to me saying what you're doing is not the real thing and you know that and uh, but you make it better, make up your mind soon if you want to become a more viable concert pianist or else just don't bother, which was really a great way to handle me. So I thought, well, I'm intrigued. I wonder what that would be like. And so that's what really turned the corner for me. And I, I went to see a teacher who I knew from sort of from my neighborhood, had known him for years, but I'd never taken a lesson from him.
William: 10:54 And uh, so he, uh, his name is Leopold Mittman and he was rushing and had studied in, in Warsaw and uh, at the conservatory and I'm doing a very European brand of conservatory private teaching in his house. And uh, he was very astute at how he handled me and listen to me play something and said, okay, here's the situation, uh, you have facility but no technique. So that's very intriguing. Um, don't know exactly what that means. But I think you're right, whatever you're saying it has the ring of truth. Uh, and at this point I wasn't defensive at all. It's just like I just want to find out what people are talking about because I think they're right. I, I know enough to know that there's something. I totally, I'm not getting here. And uh, so he, he said, and I don't know if you know the movie the Karate Kid, but, um, it, you know, to me it's brilliant pedagogically and I show it in my piano pedagogy classes and so on are scenes from it.
William: 12:05 And he did a kind of a, something much like the master in that movie with me. We kind of made a deal with each other and uh, it was quite, quite wonderful. And, uh, he said, yes, you have no technique, but he said, I can, I can transfer to you. And understanding what I mean by a technique. It wouldn't take that long, maybe six weeks, but during those six weeks you won't be able to play very well at all. Everything will be slopping out of control because that's because you're still be figuring out something very deep about what it is to play the piano and after that you'll, you'll get it sort of like a breakdown break you down so you totally breaking it down and asking me to trust him. Right. How did you feel excited? Like great, let's do it. I didn't have to think about it twice.
William: 12:57 And so what was that process like? What did you, what did you get up to? And it was a couple of very basic things and one of the, one of the questions that you mentioned to me before we connected today I think is I'm going to deal with now, although it's later the list, which is, it was something very basic like what they, what is this technique? Is it something mysterious or what? And he said, I can tell it to you in one sentence and this probably would apply to any, any genre of performing. If you want to do it technically in a healthy and satisfying way, and it would be a sentence, something like this. You have to make a thorough commitment to every note, the physical commitment to every note. It's possible to play the piano, for example, in a very surface way that sounds pretty and nice, but you aren't physically making a kind of complete commitment commitment, meaning you kind of fall right into it like you just dive off a cliff with that amount of trust and letting go and when sensing the bottom of the key so you're like totally committing to the experience of playing that f sharp or that C or whatever it might be.
William: 14:09 And this is completely new idea to me. And uh, never heard of it before. Never thought of it. I was trying to make my music sound pretty and pleasing and what it's supposed to be. Never occurred to me that there was a step before that of making a commitment. Physically do every note, regardless of how loud or soft or anything it was supposed to be. So very interesting. And part of that, that the other colonel that I have to mention, which I alluded to a second ago, which is in order to thoroughly make a relaxed free commitment to every note, you have to kind of let go of everything which were the, which is where the, you're not going to be in control for a while. Part came in, so that meant you're missing the note, you're looking right at it and you're hitting something else.
William: 14:53 You're playing in the correct. So you're fumbling or missing what you meant, which is once you get used to it, quite exciting and an endlessly intriguing if you, if you're not upset by it. So I was just ready for all this. I had nothing at stake, no concerts I needed to play. I wasn't playing concerts at that time. So, uh, it was great. I was just an open field to just experiment with complete mental and physical curiosity about what is he talking about. And from the very beginning, it just felt so congenial to me and so healthy and grade that I didn't need much convincing.
Jack: 15:28 That's fantastic. I'm kind of conscious to not rush onto quickly from that because I know that it's interesting what you say, that you were so ready for that at that point and you'd had a really good kind of foundation in your childhood. It sounded like a good mentors and stuff like that for someone who's kind of listening to the podcast and kind of doesn't really Grok or get that as an idea. They've kind of listened to what you said there about totally committing to a no, and you did, you did unpack it a bit. I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts on it. What does it actually mean to totally commit and if both physically is it, it's psychological as well. And, and also let go. Can you say anything more than that?
William: 16:08 Yeah, I mean it's a tricky question and a good question. I'm glad you're kind of holding me to it for a minute. Um, and I've had to teach this to lots of people, uh, who have not been lucky enough to have a joyous beginning like I described as a little toddler, you know, or an introduction to this idea earlier on in their life, um, and it takes getting used to, for sure. Uh, it's, I mean the first step is a kind of a sensing what relaxation feels like in your body, which in itself is a kind of a new thing. And many piano teachers do this because we deal with the, with the weight of the arm. We deal with gravity unlike other instruments where you push keys down and do different kinds of actions, um, or draw a bow across the string or something like that.
William: 16:57 We, we just sort of can lead to gravity work for us. And so that means we have to figure out what is it to be relaxed and find out what your arm ways. Uh, and that's really the first step, which is sometimes kind of a big deal. Uh, you know, letting the teacher or someone else to say, let me take your arm and just give it to me and trust me to have it. And uh, if I let go of it, it's going to go flopping down. It might hit something. In other words, you have no control of it, so it's psychological too and physical at that very basic level and you know, in order to teach that I'll have them take my arm and I'll trust them to do anything they want with it and they see how that works and so on. Um, so that's the first step. What is it to trust it and what is it to free it and then, and then it's sort of what does it feel like to, to, uh, let anything happen when you come to the keyboard. I mean, it's, once you get used to the idea it's not, it's intriguing. Most people find it fun in a way and a, or not too fearful of it.
Jack: 18:03 It's just brand new. That again, to answer your question, it does. It does. Yeah. And I'm sure we'll, we'll touch on it later on. It as well. Um, so, so you've had this, you've got this good mental and your, you're having lessons with him. Let's fast forward a bit to when you started actually doing this kind of work yourself, so teaching others and because it came fairly naturally to you. And when did you encounter people who maybe were in need of kind of more understanding of this area?
William: 18:34 Well, it's just about all the time you from the beginning of my teaching, I started teaching it the age of 16 and, and uh, yeah, I mean it's basically 99 percent of, I hate to say that, but I mean really it's more or less true, maybe going maybe 95 percent of people that I've worked with or grappling with some kind of a, how can I say? Certainly the accumulated tension that comes from trying to control things too much, blurring the practice process with performing. That's another thing I got from midland which was very sensible to me, which is that practicing something and playing at our very, very, very, very, very different activities. And if you're not clear on how are different, you'll come into
Jack: 19:28 trouble. I would love to hear more about that actually is a question I was going to ask you in a minute.
William: 19:33 Well, I'm in the act of performing. Then you bring all your powers of attention and control and wanting what you want. You bring that all into play at every moment so you can perform at your very, very best in practice. You want to unpack all of that because if you're performing all the time, I'm here. Let me put it another way. There's analogy that he used, which still works for me, which is like every time you perform something the way you really want it to be, it's like you're kind of spending a little bit of money out of your bank account in terms of your technique. If you were to perform something five times in a row, just the way you want it to be, by the end of those five times, you've lost a little bit of technique. So every time you spend something out of your bank account by performing something one time, you got to pay it back in by doing things that are technically very constructive and you know them to be constructive.
William: 20:40 Like, let me sink into this finger and help it be strong and relax again and remind my wrist how it can be free here and all these things that you know, help you because there's a thousand little moments in the course of a piano piece that we need to encourage our body to be technically healthy and strong. And it doesn't. It'll evaporate if we don't keep doing these things. So I'm practicing is your chance to make things better, stronger, freer, more automatic, and congenial. Essentially was pleasure to do. Performing is when you cash in on all that stuff. And I've found this to be a very healthy, healthy division. It's hard to talk about without misspeaking and uh, ended up saying things that don't quite mean like practice, you know, mechanically it was not at all what I mean or do you know what I mean?
William: 21:33 It's, it's or practice without music, which is not what I mean either. It's not unmusical at all, but it's certainly is breaking it down as a craftsman, as a crafts person too so that everything, you know, you're doing it some good. And so, um, it's so tempting to want to do too much performing in the practice. And should we do some. Yeah, occasionally, sure. Try to see really what you can do with that piece and put all the pieces together, but just make sure that, that, you know, you offset that with, you know, five times more of really constructive technical work. So in other words, that's your workshop and then when you walk on stage, he said that's when your performance comes together. That's, you know, you shouldn't leave your best performance in the practice room and everything you do on stage is a pale shadow of what you've achieved in the practice room. She try to do all the preliminary things that'll make you wonderful and then walk onstage and trusted all to come together. Yeah.
Jack: 22:35 No, I really appreciate you making that distinction. It's a, it's a really good one. And I have had the analogy once or twice for it.
William: 22:42 Good. I'm glad people are saying it because it's so. You don't forget it and it's a.
Jack: 22:48 and it's also one of those things that you feel as, as it's kind of funny analogy that you've come up with or you've heard along the lines and anything that other people don't seem that way. So it's uh, it's gratifying to hear, but not just you but mit men as well.
William: 23:01 Yeah, I mean that's the thing. It's so tempting to really love the music, wouldn't be doing this if we didn't love, love the music and, and a lot of times, you know, let's say if I'm giving a lesson to graduate students in place, somebody I don't know, but I'm just working with them for the first time and they will tell me I've got detention problems in my shoulder and my wrist and I'm, you know, tense in my mind and I'm thinking maybe you can help me. They'll play something very intelligently and very in a very cultivated way, but I can perceive that their problems are real. And as they said, and then my first question is always telling me how you tend to work on this. And I usually can predict what they're going to say, which is, well, I remember all the great things that I heard in my lesson about how you can the top note just so it makes sure that these are accompanying notes are very, very, very. Even in Pianissimo. And so. And then I remember all these wonderful artistic things that we talked about. And then I try to do that very slowly. But very carefully every day to make sure you know, they're, they're trying to pursue the result itself every day. And that's flat doesn't work. It doesn't work.
Jack: 24:10 So it's. So for me, this, this kind of makes me think about goals and in a sense, getting our goals mixed up between practice and performance would. What do you think our goal is in practice as opposed to performance?
William: 24:25 Okay. This is something I've thought about too a lot and I think that if there's like a overall, like sentence, like written in the air right above your instrument in your practice, you're like, that could say here's the overweening, here's the goal that I have for all of my practicing. For many people. Unfortunately that goal is I want everything to sound just the way it's supposed to sound. That to me is not a very fruitful goal. So for me it's a different thing entirely. My goal is it's like a question, how can everything that I'm doing feel great? That's mostly how can every thing feel wonderful, not just be correct. Correct. Is Not good enough. It has to feel actively great. So it's completely about how it feels to you, trusting that that will lead to even much more control over your sound and much more of a color Palette and much more of a effortless controller dynamics and all the things you want that are refined all comes from how can everything field. Great.
Jack: 25:38 I'm really interested in what you said about earlier about sensory pleasure of practice, but also you said the mechanical side of practice in the sense of, uh, on working on things and breaking them down for many people, they'd be a kind of at odds with each other. Are they at odds for you or.
William: 25:56 Yeah, I shouldn't say mechanical. Neuromuscular. I mean, that'd be a much better way. Um, are they an to. No, no. I mean, to me what the joy of coming across the teacher like get like Mittman who helped me understand this was that I finally knew really what to what to practice for a, you know, I had a goal that I could be intrigued with and it, it, it, it didn't have to do with my trying to be expressive all the time or musically successful all the time. It is quite fun to work on the neuro muscular stuff I think. Yeah, I think that's a, it's fun because it feels good at the piano. So I think about the fingers and their relative weakness and strength, which is certainly not the same. And uh, all the possible ways we can have tension or release. So when I'm playing well, it feels actively wonderful to me. It's a pleasure. I like it physically.
Jack: 26:49 I'm wondering, I'm wondering whether we could actually, I don't know whether you could do this, but sort of give this as an example, sort of imagine that you are practicing a certain passage and describe because it's one of those things that just no one has access to. We as musicians don't have access to other people's other musician's brains, and yet obviously there is a distinct difference in people's ability to practice, so not just to play their instrument, but you know, you have people who are very good at practicing and you also have people who are very wasteful and not very good at practicing and spend hours. I myself have also done both of those. Sure, and I'm just interested in getting more of an idea of your process.
William: 27:28 Well, this might work as an example. I mean we all know that physiologically the piano is called the fourth finger and extreme political. The third finger, in other words of the ring finger next to the pinky is physiologically hampered. It's tied to the fingers around it. It doesn't ever, never will never have the independence of other fingers. You can barely lifted if you're holding your other fingers down and none of that will ever change so that every pastor to that has all our fingers involved as a builtin weakness of the fourth finger. So it's nice to kind of chase those down and identify them and use some practice to kind of do something about it. So it's a pleasure to come to a passage that does that and sort of stop when you get to it. And, um, and take a moment to just let your whole weight of your arm sink in pleasurably, which feels very therapeutic in your wrist and all up and down, up into your shoulder and everywhere else when I say Arma really meaning your shoulder to that whole side of your body, just trustingly sink in and let that fourth finger hold it all up and rotate around.
William: 28:39 I'm doing this on my desk while I'm talking to you. No one can see me, but I'm gesturing to show you what I mean. So, uh, yeah. So, um, and so you turned what was a weakness and something you're a little bit edgy about, like, oh, I hope my fourth finger will perform and not let me down. You turn that into a very positive thing where you luxuriate in the feeling of, Oh, how strong my fourth finger you can feel. And as it holds up the weight of my arm, you never can make it really strong, but you can make it more, more functional in terms of using, getting the arm way to get into it. That's one example. Or jumping from place to place. If we're uptight, ability, your string player doing a difficult shift or a pianist jumping from place to place, which we do a lot, you know, if you are nervous about missing it and you're feeling that subtle tension that's not pleasurable or if you're castigating yourself every time you miss because yesterday you got it right.
William: 29:37 If instead you have this pleasurable feeling of your arm Kinda jumping with a nice graceful arch from place to place in a generous way, uh, that's fun to do. That feels nice. And uh, you, you have to trust your body to, yeah, I may miss it two or three times, but then without you're changing what you're doing at all it, it begins to find it. Your body begins to find it. Loves to learn this way. So I hope those are maybe more vivid examples of what I'm talking about. Yeah, no, no, absolutely it is. One of the things I find and I know in my conversation with the other musicians that they find is that when, when you kind of get into this place of kind of relaxed practice and you're not performing, you've kind of, you've made that distinction between them both this seems to be, and I'm sure there is forever and ever and abundance or things that you could work on, um, at any one time and you can also, it's kind of without sounding pretentious, it's kind of fractal in the sense that the deeper you go with this small thing, the bigger it gets.
William: 30:33 Does that make sense? So, so how do you kind of filter or prioritize on what's your advice to students or just does it just depend on the circumstance? And this is where the intelligence comes into practicing. It takes an intelligent person to figure out what's my next challenge? How can I define it will be a smart thing for me to do in the next five minutes? Is it these two notes? Is that these 12 measures? Is that this lefthand? What is. And you'll know because it's a kind of gestalt idea, like the thing that needs to emerge, we'll emerge, you'll know if you're paying attention, what feels a little insecure or a little bit tense or where you were faking it a little bit where you'll know, and then, and then, uh, then it's just being smart about how to set up your little fractals moment.
William: 31:21 You're a little well defined piece of it and do that. So, um, uh, I don't think that's anything to be overly concerned about once you're awake to that, that that's your job. I'm carrying it out. I don't think it's all that, all that tricky [inaudible] I prefer that to saying I'm going to play this Prac, this passage 10 times perfectly. And each time I'm going to move a penny from the left side of the piano to the ride. And if I mess up, I have to start all over again there. There's actually a place for even for that and practicing. If there's something you just cannot get the, get the accuracy and you have to do that. Sure. There's a place for everything in practicing. But, um, uh, but primarily, no, I think the most productive practicing is, is constantly redefining what you're doing. So it's mentally quite a absorbing and actually be taxing.
William: 32:23 I find I can't do it for more than a couple of hours or three hours or so. I mean, I could keep on playing, but my mind would get a little little worn out, right? Uh, so, um, uh, it all comes from this kind of, first of all, knowing a kind of fundamental way. Here's how I want, here's how I understand great feeling, playing to feel, whether it's singing a note, if you're a singer, this is what it feels like to sing when it feels great and this is what it feels like to play the cello. And it feels great. You have to have a kind of, a more experienced that you can come back to and say, I'm comparing everything to this and then you'll know what you're about because, uh, you know, then any moments that don't resemble that in some way or you can't quickly find some of that earlier experience in it, that's some place where you want to drill down. And you want to, you want to find something, something more. So it, it, it guides itself in that way. We can't do this kind of practicing until we figured out what does it mean for something to feel great.
Jack: 33:29 That's really interesting to, Hey, I'd love to move on to performance now you're a performer and have been your whole life and the people often talk about just a kind of spellbinding performances in that. How the person was really in the zone. That's often from an audience perspective, but people high level performance talk about being in the zone themselves. What does that mean to you? Or is it kind of just a vague, vague concept?
William: 33:56 Well, I think no to very fruitful concept and I love all the ideas that did names that have been come up with to describe something like being in the zone or um, I, I very much like the whole flow idea that has been defined to. I mean there are several aspects to this. One has to do with practicing before we get into performing, you know, practicing itself when you're doing the kind of work that I've been talking about where you are allowing yourself to be challenged and inviting risk and all of that, that's very engaging to the mind and body. And so it's kind of a blissful activity really. Uh, I find, and that is a functional kind of a flow to be in where you're, you know what I mean, you're, you're challenges are just a little bit beyond where you're comfortable and that's kind of great.
William: 34:45 This is, that's one thing that really I subscribed to that whole formulation completely. I think that that's great. Now when it comes to performing, it's very complex. It's very unpredictable and it's very thrilling. I mean, this is something where you really feel like you're truly alive when you're performing a, I feel like it's kind of altered state. Uh, we never know exactly in what way it's going to be altered. That's one of the things that's exciting about it can go in any direction and no matter how experienced you are, that's still true. Um, so you have to kind of fight that. That's one of the reasons, by the way, while we want to do a kind of a overlearning in the practice room in terms of technique so that we've got a comfortable margin for wherever the performing moment will take us. So this altered state, it's a flow that a, it's an experience that, um,
William: 35:52 I, my own approach to it has everything to do with the audience and the fact that the audiences there, the fact that we feel altered comes from the fact that people are listening and they're not. They're in the practice room and in this very primitive human experience level, it makes a difference to us as we all know, if people are listening and it's an official kind of a performance, the stakes are high and so on and it can be terrifying. But also we can open up to that and say, well, people are listening. So maybe if I embrace that as part of what's happening here and let that be part of this altered experience. The fact that it's not just me doing something and hoping it's okay or it goes well, but it's a lot of people together psychologically right now in this tacit community that we're sharing and I'm the one that's doing something to engender a kind of mutual communication. And so that's how I like to think of this altered state and, and the m zone that I love to find myself in when it happens in performance. The other thing about performing that I just like to,
William: 37:15 I'd like to talk about, because I think this is a discovery that I made during those same college years with some messages. So much of this became clear to me and it was inspiring to me, um, was when I first had an experienced a chance to play solos with the orchestra as a winner of the competition. I'd never done this before and it was in a big hall with a big audience. And uh, you know, it was quite overwhelming to me and I took me quite awhile to kind of get into this situation and find myself there and not feel kind of frozen. Um, but when that did happen later on in the evening and I was playing, you know, a sort of favorite passage of mine, it was a Cadenza and the Rimsky-korsakov Concerto, um, music I really loved and I knew that I knew how to play it meaningfully, all that.
William: 38:09 Um, I made this discovery which no one has spoken to me about. So I felt it was one of those kind of pure things for me, which was that I really felt something happened that was inspiring, which was that this music that I knew so well suddenly took on a level of meaning that I had not thought about it. Now. Like now I finally understand what it means, which I couldn't in the practice room. I think this is what my had been talking about. Why do understand now? Because those 2000 people are there and I can feel their attention, which initially was scaring me when I started the eating. And now it's like there's this sharing going on and they're informing me tacitly about something, about what this music really means as a human expression. So there's like this sort of circuit when I called a circuit of meaning and I've tried to unpack this philosophically in different ways.
William: 39:03 It's very tricky, but it's also very tangible and I think people probably know what I'm talking about. People who've been part of that circuit either on stage or in the audience or whatever. So I think this is true for any performer, any amateur player, just doing it for fun and a little bit scared about what is it like to play a performance if you open your mind the fact that it's not just about will I do well and survive and all that, but that's kind of narcissistic really. But if instead of that, what if it, what will happen when I share this music that I know so well and believe in and love with other people? What will happen when we're tested Lee? Sharing it in a room and in a given moment, how might the meaning of it expand into something new and anyone can experience that.
Jack: 39:51 Great. Thank you. Um, we're getting close to wrapping up now. Um, there was one kind of fundamental question I wanted to touch on, which is kind of ties in with the title of your book, which for those of you who, I can't remember whether we've mentioned it yet, the, for those of you who haven't read it, it's called the perfect note and I'll link to it in the, in the show notes, but we've all heard about, um, you know, we should embrace mistakes and things like that and we've kind of touched on this, but you're kind of, your book takes it to a whole new level. And I'm interested as to, to how you have thought about mistakes over the years and how this is developed and.
William: 40:26 Well, yeah, I mean I'm, I'm delighted that you feel like that it goes a little bit deeper. I hope that it does. I've had to figure out a lot about how to try to talk about this because when I first gave talks about this, I know I wasn't doing a good enough job because people thought that I was saying, don't Fret if you make a mistake. It's not a big deal. The world's still spinning and the Sun will rise tomorrow and you know, Babe Ruth League slugger in baseball, but he hit a lot and he struck out a lot too. And you know, that's not my message at all. So, um, uh, what I, what I'm trying to say in business, let me say once again, this is not new with me. This was a philosophy that I was taught. It goes all the way back to my, my, my teacher Leopold Mithune was a student of a student of Frederic Chopin. So I mean, a lot of this pianistic approach, an instrumental approach has been out there for generations anyway. I'm just the inheritor of it. But um, uh,
William: 41:28 so it's not just forgiving ourselves and saying, let me try again. It's totally embracing the mistake and saying, what's the information in that mistake? Because that's probably the best information I'm going to get. It's going to save me a lot of time if I can really find out what it's telling me and so that the more we get into it is intriguing and interesting and in a very objective experience when it's, which in itself is psychologically healthy. We let go of all the success and failure I dichotomy, which is not how we have to see it at all. I wish we had another word beside mistake, you know, uh, unexpected occurrence or something like that. I mean, that's really all that it is. Something happens that isn't what we expected, period. So then it's like, okay, that's surprising. I wonder what that's about. And that's all. And then looking into it with a childlike but very focused curiosity about I wonder what that could be regardless of what I played yesterday or a thousand times before. This is what's happening now. So I think that's, I hope that maybe says something about it in terms of your question. And, and I, uh, as I say, it's a very fundamentally, it's a seeking of some kind of real truth in the practice room, a without an ego attachment. And that in itself, to me it's an extremely healthy
Jack: 42:57 thing to be doing on a daily basis, on every level. That word ego is an interesting one. It's often used in lots of different ways and different contexts. How do you view it in regards to music and practice and performance? Because I think it's an important one for musicians and particularly with regards to what you're talking about, which is being authentic and honest in the practice room.
William: 43:20 Well, it's a slippery word and I'm probably using it in precisely. I mean it has a very precise definitions and so on, but. But I got to know it. Again, it's, it's, it's perhaps it's the. If the sea change between the practice room world and the stage world in the practice room, I think it'd be very ego less as much as I can in the sense that we're noticing moment to moment the business of what's happening outside of us. What's, what's really happening with my body, what's really happened with those regardless of what I wish it to be. So that's a very nice. Just like just like a sitting meditation or anything else. It's like a kind of meditation where you let go of ego controls of your processes and then on when you're performing, then, you know, each one of us performance really like no one else.
William: 44:14 We have our own self that's becomes part of the part of the equation and I think it's a, it's a joy to, to bring that into it and let our own feelings uniquely and thoughts interact with the musical stimulus. Not In not copying anyone else's performance or doing what teachers have said, but, you know, bringing our own thing to it, but, uh, with the sense of not only expressing our own self, but as I said before, a offering that into this beautiful, uh, almost sacred space of having listeners there to be part of it too.
Jack: 44:55 All right. Thank you now. Right. That's pretty helpful. Um, so yeah, we're kind of wrapping up now. It's just a few questions. I kind of had, um, kind of developing these questions for the podcasts. Some of them might be cheesy, but a school, the people at the end, I guess the first one was really about you. You've done music your whole life and often I think that disciplines that we, we spend a lot of time with and we care a lot about, they often teach us more about or as much about life as they do the practice itself. Do you see what I mean? And I'm kind of wondering if there's any great lessons that you feel that music has helped you with or taught you about?
William: 45:33 Well, I guess really we've touched on a lot of these things already. Um, objectivity in the way I've described a kind of acceptance mindfulness. I know it's an overused word, but I think it's lovely mindfulness of what's happening every moment. And, and I would add to that it kind of resourcefulness. I think that's one of the reasons why people who have been trained in music and done some successful things in it are very often snapped up by other companies in other fields saying, we'll train you to learn this software or whatever it is. Knowing I think people into it that there's also just kind of a resourcefulness and their problem solving, um, acumen that you develop from, um, from doing rigorous music on a high level and really challenging yourself. So those are the, I guess would be the main, the main things.
Jack: 46:34 Great. And you've had a lot of teachers, some good mentors. Are there any standout pieces of advice that they've, they've given you over the years? You've obviously mentioned a few particularly that quote from madmen, but is there anything else that comes, comes to mind?
William: 46:48 No. Most of the advice I got from about pragmatic things and artistic things and how they come together came from, from midland. I've already mentioned most of those. The other person that I should say who influenced me and inspired me and opened up a vista for me was eloise risked at who wrote this book. I'm a soprano on her head r I s t a d l Lewis risk dead. Her work with musicians, uh, was the other piece in, in what I've done pedagogically, how you can do workshops where you ask people to do outrageous things or new things or free things or trust each other, become playful again and combined that with, with the, uh, exciting rigors of doing music on a high level. So, um, I'd like to mention her name too in terms of, you know, the composite of, of people who've influenced me in a, in a, what I think is a fortunate way.
Jack: 47:50 Great. Thank you. Well, thank you very much for, for coming on the podcast today. So it's been, it's been really good. I really appreciate you, uh, being the first one. That's great. Great. Pleasure and honor for me to frame. Is there any. Is there any other thoughts or last things that you want to say?
William: 48:09 Um, no. Uh, but you hinted at something in one of your questions which we should touch on very briefly, which is that this shines, and I'm not an expert on this, but I think I'm ready to call that one. The brain science, especially neuroscience, which is, you know, the big new field is I think beginning to support a lot of the things we've talked about, um, that when you're taking risks with your process and the brain is intrigued with that, you know, appropriate risks that, you know, not doing this safe, tried and true, but challenging yourself in a way that's exciting. The brain likes it, it's energized, it wants to remember that experience and you know, perhaps even produce more Myelin to, to protect it with the nerve pathways. I don't really know what I'm talking about when I say that, but I mean there's, there's writing about this and studies about this kind of things that, that, what they call deliberate practice or focus practice. I'm not just routine mind numbing practice, but really engaged, practicing problem solving is a magically exciting coil. Talks about it. I can assess the, you know, the worthiness of those claims. But that's what I'm talking about. And um, and I think other things like that are happening too. So, so it could be that the things that have been passed down over the generations that felt right to people on every level, and I really believe this whole heartedly, the things that have felt right and most productive will turn out to be born out by the science
Jack: 49:53 [inaudible]
William: 49:55 you, you asked me something about enjoyment in, in your, your notes and I've been doing some research, uh, using motion capture technology and brain scanning and things like that with a team of other people to assess what happens when you invite a piano's to just not try, not try to play so correctly at this moment, but just think about enjoying yourself when you play the same piece. What happens if we don't define what that means? What are the observable things they might do differently when they just enjoy themselves? And uh, so this is of great interest to me to see if there's something as loose sounding as that can actually have measurable in scientific benefits. The research still going on at the moment. Yeah. Well, um, we've done a kind of a pilot study which we've been writing up and getting those articles published and it remains to be seen if we'll be doing a more extended study on it, but I think this is the first time the concept of enjoyment as been used as a variable in these kinds of scientific studies.
William: 50:55 Yeah, that's fascinating. Yeah, I've seen some videos on that actually, so I will, I'll link to that as well. Yup. That's great. So that's it. So, uh, but yeah. So you're working on now. Is there any. What else is next for you? What are, what else are you up to at the moment? Well, I don't know when it will happen, but I would like to eventually be able to produce a new edition of the perfect wrong note, which would include videos so that I could show the things that I'm pantomiming here in my house in Texas and you can't see and just show people what I mean because there's no way that a book or even the words that we're saying today can quite convey, you know, the physicality of the things I'm talking about. So I'd love to be able to achieve that so I can just find a way to, to make this message ever clearer and more and more pivot. Yeah. Well let us know when that, when that is coming. Really interested. Great. Well thanks again very much. A pleasure. All right, bye.