The Gift of Music

How playing the cello changed my relationship with learning

Posted Oct 31, 2012

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." – Shunryu Suzuki

Jennifer Hamady

A Sense of Play. 

Indeed, something magical happens when you know that you don't know something. Not burdened by opinions, pride or beliefs, I was fully present in the workshop. And I was able to listen– and hear– in a way that I wouldn't have been in a voice or nonfiction writing class (two of the fields I work in).  

I've recently had similar 'a-ha' moments thanks to the cello, which I began playing three months ago. Coming home from a trip one day, there she stood next to my smiling husband, a red bow perched on her neck.

They say the cello is the instrument most like the human voice, which perhaps explains why as a singer I have always been so drawn to it. The timbre is so rich, the resonance and sweet melancholy fill and emanate from its wooden body the way they do from my own. And I will never forget the first time I played her; tears streamed down my face as the joy and wonder of making music in this new way became possible.

The wonder… the joy… Why is it often such a challenge to bring this experience of learning to bear in areas about which we are already knowledgeable?

Back in July, I speculated that the main problem is living in a culture which deems the acquisition of information to be of greater importance than the process by which we acquire it. Both the language and experience of mastery, achievement and expertise suggest the sought-after arrival at an end point, rather than an ongoing process of learning.

Unfortunately, this view doesn’t tend to breed wonder, joy, and curiosity but rather, competition, closed-mindedness, and even arrogance. To say nothing of the stress, anxiety and lack of productivity that come from trying to do things perfectly, lest we fall from our supposed pinnacle of distinction.

Just as a sponge can only take on water after being wrung out, so too must we be able– regardless of our experience or education– to continually renounce our own fullness, lest we become bloated and stale.

The cello has been a powerful reminder of this lesson, both in my musical life and beyond: it is surrender– of perfection, of expectation, of resistance– that allows learning at every level and in every area to become joyful... and as a result, effective.

Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and counselor specializing in emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. Click here to learn more about her book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice, heralded as a breakthrough in the psychology of personal and musical performance.

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