Is is possible to want something without wanting to have to work to get it?
I was talking to a (non-musician) friend over brunch a couple of weeks ago about how he wanted to get in shape. (Don't we all?) He has never been able to engage his abdominal muscles -- crunches, planks, and core are all foreign sensations to him! He thought back pain was normal during all the activities other people usually engage their core to perform. Ouch. In a session with a trainer, she had finally gotten him to feel a twinge of what it means to flex one's abs. He didn't like the sensation, and his reaction was, "I don't like that, I don't think I'll do it again." "But," I argued, "doesn't that mean you don't really want to get in shape?" If he didn't want to do the thing that was a necessary step along the way to his goal, could my friend really say that he wanted to get in shape?
I think that wanting something means wanting everything that comes with it -- all its pre-requisites, co-requisites, and baggage. Desire is a commitment, a faithfulness to a goal, not just an idle dream. I think about this when students don't want to play scales but do want to play a solo -- they don't fully appreciate what playing that solo entails. They can't see the path you have to walk in order to reach a goal, and like my friend, they encounter a hurdle along the way and give up because it's hard.
I recently came across a quotation from Martha Graham in which she more eloquently equates commitment to a dream with commitment to the process of achieving it. I am particularly inspired by the way that committing to the process of practice (instead of the end goal) gives her a sense of inner purpose:
“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”
While in a lesson during my master's degree, my teacher looked at me after I'd finished playing a passage and said, "I just don't hear desire in your sound," and I was crushed, because I felt immediately how devastating a critique that was. Technique, tone, dynamics, and intonation are all fine and good, but the thing that drives them, that propels the music, and from which confidence emanates just wasn't there. This set about several years of introspection (and self-doubt) into what "desire" meant to me. Along the way, I examined my technique: why didn't my sound spin? why did I go flat at the end of every phrase? why did my vibrato warble just before a harmonic resolution? Because I didn't desire (want, yearn, need) the line, the note, or the phrase to be just so -- and therefore I let the pitch drop, the vibrato warble, and the sound sit fat and unmoving. I was focused on executing properly rather than living in the sound I made. I thought I had a desire for desire, but I didn't fully appreciate what desire entailed and I was even a bit embarrassed to have someone witness my vulnerability in the act of desiring.
I found my sense of desire and my ability to engage it (even if it hurts!) through an embouchure change, a new flute, working with new colleagues, going through one break-up too many, and learning to find joy in being alive. Yet, it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been told that my playing lacked desire in the first place -- I was suddenly aware of its absence. My playing was fundamentally changed by learning what desire meant to me and trying to understand what it meant to desire desire.