When I was younger, I was preoccupied with proving myself. Having less than stellar pre-college musical training made me feel vulnerable and ashamed. I felt like a phony when I compared myself to peers who seemed to have grown up listening and making music with family (and who had already studied in Vienna; my closest encounter with which was Vienna sausages). I remember taking two futile approaches to remedy this via self-sabotage: I put myself down before anyone else could and I avoided many situations that took me out of my comfort zone.
Fortunately, the love of Beethoven called and I was eager to know him. So, there goes my comfort zone (all pianists know how Beethoven can bring the most gifted musicians to their breaking points). Music is a powerful motivator. Thankfully, the music that I loved most demanded vulnerability and a willingness to open up and let go. While I’m still working on that (aren’t we all?), music has helped me to admit what I don’t “know.” I have learned to relish not knowing. Curiosity, love, wonder and the joy of discovering new things everytime I come to the piano has been such a gift. I love it more today than ever. And I think I am in the process of becoming a better human because of it.
I am also so grateful for my students of all ages and levels who have never once (at least openly) balked at my admission of not knowing something. For anyone who has taught for more than a few months (days!), the realization that your students are often smarter and more talented than you is par for the course. And even if you have a great deal to offer them (as we all hope), chances are good that many of them will have special insights and interests in areas where you lack expertise. I have learned so much from my students in these cases. We brainstorm and figure out things together. Learning alongside your students models such openness and vulnerability. I hope that it doesn’t take them as long to embrace what they don’t know. Life changing growth can happen in these epiphanal moments. But we have to be brave.