Monday, April 19, 2010

UE#32 Performance Tips From an Extremist

Today I have 5 things that a modern day polar explorer can teach us about success with our musical ambitions.

Last week I went to a slide show at my daughter’s school. I’ll be honest. I didn’t want to go. Some people may relish the idea of sitting in a school auditorium for 2 hours but I don’t. I grumbled as I bought the tickets.

As you may have guessed... I loved it! Kevin Vallely talked about his life as one of the world’s top explorers. I don’t expect you’ve heard of him but he happens, along with Richard Weber & Ray Zahab, to hold the record for the fastest time to the South Pole. 1130 km in 33 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes. They achieved this on foot and without outside support. They pulled their own sleds while carefully navigating crevasses, snow drifts and blizzards.

All well and good. But what does jogging across Antarctica pulling a 110 pound sled have to do with the ukulele? Not a lot, but, I was drawn to his 5 ingredients for a successful expedition.

I found myself hanging on his every word. All of us set off on journeys in our personal and professional lives but how well do we plan? How much thought do we put into every decision along the way? Most of us trundle along in an ad-hoc fashion dealing with what comes up and hoping for success. Fortunately, for the majority of us, our decisions tend not to be of the life and death variety.

Many polar explorations have led to the demise of those involved because of poor preparation. Vallely however likes to quote Roald Amundsen (the 1st person to reach the South Pole) who said “Adventure is just bad planning”.

I came away from the talk realizing that many of us would probably plan things better if our lives actually depended on the decisions that we make. His 5 ingredients for a successful expedition can be adapted for whatever goal you have in mind.

Maybe your goal is just to get started on the ukulele. Perhaps you have a loftier vision where you see yourself performing for an audience of 1000s. Wherever you want to take your uke you may well benefit from Kevin’s 5 tips for success.

You will need:

1)    Desire
This seems a no brainer but it is important to check in with yourself to see that your desire is true. Once on the path of playing music it can be very easy to let ego or fears take us in directions that we never intended to go. Other people may belittle or exaggerate our ability. Life's decisions are easier to make if you are clear about your desire.

2)   Preparation
A lot of preparation can be spending time thinking! I’ve seen many people make expensive and time consuming mistakes because they just didn’t put enough thought into what they were doing. I should rephrase that last sentence: I have seen ME make expensive and time consuming mistakes etc... Do you spend 15 minutes a day thinking about the creation of your dream or vision? 15 minutes a day is not a lot but so many ‘intelligent’ people just don’t do it. 

3)    Teamwork
Whether you think you are or not you’re always part of a team. Even as a solo performer you make temporary partnerships with say, the client who books you to perform, the designer of your website or your ukulele teacher. It is in everybody's interest to have a successful outcome. Working with other people is a process involving communication and trust. It also helps to have a sense of humour so you can all enjoy the mutual journey.

4)    Expect the Unexpected
      Things always come up. Sometimes you can have contingency plans ready but often we have to deal with whatever comes when it comes. Sometimes I get the comment that my shows seem off-the-cuff and unrehearsed yet there is a distinct connectivity to my presentation.
People ask me whether I use a set list of pre-planned songs, jokes and anecdotes. I tell them yes I do but I don’t stick to it. I have learned that rigidly sticking to the format of a performance can work against me. When something comes up in a show, be it a song request, a heckler, an idea or unusual circumstance I gain connectivity to the audience by dealing with it then and there instead of staying with the plan.

5)    Seeing It Through
       If you give up before you see your dream or desire unfold then how will you know what you can achieve? I keep thinking about Kevin Vallely waking up in Antarctica in his tent at 30º or 40º below and realizing that he has yet another excruciating day of difficult physical and mental endurance ahead of him.
I dare say all of us have woken up with that feeling (sometimes even in our own homes) but we’re still here and still going. The times when I’ve seriously considered giving up on my dreams are usually after a performance that didn’t go so well. “It was the worst show ever!” I cry. But just like the darkest part of the night is just before dawn I find myself performing in wonderful circumstances and having the “best show ever!” soon after I was ready to quit.

In show business it is often assumed that those who succeed do so because of their particular constellation of good fortune. I found it particularly noteworthy that in his presentation Mr. Vallely never talked about having to rely on blind luck.
Perhaps show business and snow business are not so different after all.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Just what I needed to read when having a think about my career path & possibilities. Thanks!