“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.” Khalil Gibran
Why Kindness? Why write about kindness in the music profession? Is it really necessary to be kind?
In order to be kind in all things, we must have been shown kindness. And it starts almost immediately in music lessons with our first teachers. Whether they see talent or something undefinable but promising or nothing but some interest, they are kind and encouraging.
The best teachers, conductors and directors are tough but kind. They critique your technique or interpretation but never you as a person. They may, in fact, believe you do not have enough talent for a career in music, but they will not be the ones to tell you so, unless asked. Then they will be the first to praise other aspects of your personality and suggest other things you may do in life.
I was privileged to study at the Chicago Musical College, now the Chicago College of Performing Arts, as an undergraduate and a graduate student. Looking back, I know I was lucky to not only study with some world class and wonderful musicians, but wonderful people. Nurturing and kind and willing to teach, these folks touched not only me but many of my generation of musicians. Having recently sung in a CCPA Alumni Chorus, I can report it still seems to be that way at CCPA.
There certainly was a hierarchy, but just because you seemed to be in the “middle tier,” as I thought I was, we were still treated with respect and got chances to perform and conduct. In our lessons, we were actually taught and actually taught how to practice. An 18- or 19-year-old comes to music school with no idea how to budget practice on their own or what to practice but we were guided. We were not expected to know everything or be perfect all the time because we were students, and it was understood we were to be guided. But what we were expected to be was kind, respectful and responsible.
What does that mean exactly, to be kind, respectful and responsible? It is so easy to feel so full of ourselves; we forget we need to work with others. Unless you are a soloist all the time, you must work with conductors and other musicians on a regular basis. And as choral conductors and directors, unless you conduct exactly the kind of ensemble you wish, with the musicians you wish, you must work with whom you are given.
Those who cry “he or she isn’t tough enough to survive in this business” never show a smidge of kindness to not appear “weak,” however, the strongest amongst us are the most kind. You can be tough, uncompromising, and not be willing to “settle” and still be kind.