Something I Learned by Studying Misic as a Kid

This was the topic of the second of my three super-lightning talks that I fit into two minutes at the 2013 Agile Coach Camp Canada. This post continues the series of reports from the camp, started here and continued here, and gives an expanded version of what I was trying to say to the participants.

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Those how know me well personally know that I grew up in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, and spent several years studying music. I started violin when I was six and piano a couple of years later. I went to our city district’s children’s music school where they had teachers who taught me many things, but after the age of 13 I was on my own. I stopped playing violin at that point, but continued with piano without anybody’s help for a few more years. It was also at that point that I began devoting more time to athletic and academic extracurricular activities, which would soon lead me to computer programming, where the seeds of my professional career were sown. Music was all just an extracurricular activity, because it was clear pretty early that even though I wasn’t bad at it, I wasn’t material from which professional musicians are made. The teachers’ praise “this boy is your future” was reserved for somebody else.

The way music education worked in Leningrad at the time, the teachers completely updated their students’ repertoires in September when the school year started. All pieces of music you played last year were removed and you were given several more difficult ones. The teachers chose the level of difficulty appropriately, but it always went up from the previous year. Not only you had to learn the new pieces, but they were also more difficult, so you also had to learn some new techniques, and to do that you were given several new etudes. You had less than three months to get all of it in decent shape, because the recitals, concerts, and competitions started in early December. There could be some additions to the repertoire in the middle of the year, but nothing carried over past September.

Having to completely renew the repertoire and learn several new pieces of music in relatively short time was an important element of difficulty. It existed in addition to technical and artistic difficulties. Overcoming this difficulty was an important skill that had to be mastered in addition to technical and artistic skills, otherwise there was no chance of long-term success. This skill would not develop by spending another year to perfect an old piece of music.

Bring New Stuff

The takeaway from this story for us, professionals in various knowledge-based fields, is that we have to update our repertoire often. Our strength is not in possessing skills, but in the ability to renew and learn new ones. Especially for those of us leading, coaching, consulting others, we have to be relentless in developing new knowledge, training material and competencies.

If you performed works of, say, Chopin at Carnegie Hall this year, you may be welcome to repeat the exact same performance next year. Everybody else, going to other venues, bring new stuff.

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