I wish that every music student I have ever had could have been in the audience at Centennial Theatre at OPSU tonight. Kevin Wale, a senior music major in guitar performance, gave a recital that, at least for our school, raises the bar.
My college girlfriend and I gave our senior recitals about a week apart in 1998, and my parents made it down for both. My mother, who has no formal musical training, hit the nail on the head when she said, “M. had to do a recital, but you got to do a recital.” She was right–I enjoyed every minute of it (although I’m not sure that my audience can say the same thing).
Tonight’s performance, though, is a model that all musicians can aspire to in one way or another. Kevin “got to” give a recital, and from start to finish, it was amazing.
To my current students: this is what happens when you work as hard as you should be working. I’m talking about the technique, the confidence, the joy and passion with which Kevin played, the variety of styles he tackled and the facility of execution. Kevin told me later he was nervous, but it didn’t come off that way, and I wouldn’t have expected it to. As my colleague Matt Howell was fond of saying, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” The battle is not to the swift or to the strong, but to the well-prepared and the well-trained.
Again, to my students–you can do this. It won’t be easy, and it won’t always be fun. In fact, it mostly will not be fun. But like any discipline, practice becomes a habit, and soon you feel uncomfortable without it. You need to make practice familiar, until your instrument becomes as much under your control as a part of your body (or singers, bring your body so fully under your control that you no longer have to consciously control it).
Tonight, I saw a rock guitarist play twenty minutes of classical guitar. It wasn’t Segovia–only Segovia was Segovia–but it was well-practiced, conscientiously prepared, and played in a stylistically aware fashion. To my students–some music will take you out of your comfort zone. Indeed, you may never be comfortable with some music. A rock guitarist playing classical is like a sex change! But Kevin pulled it off, again, with confidence and aplomb, and he is now a better, more complete musician for it. College is about pushing boundaries and expanding ourselves to new and different areas of endeavor. Whether it is within music or not, you need to try things you might not otherwise try, meet people you might not otherwise meet and dare to see what’s out there. You will either reaffirm your understanding of the world or be forced to revise it, and either way, you will be a better, fuller human being for it.
Kevin could not have done tonight’s recital alone. He had a slate of collaborators of all types, but what they had in common was that they could support his work with their own. To my students–choose your coworkers wisely, and treat them with respect. You may think you are more talented than they are, or think you are giving them more than they are giving you, but in the end, we are not in this alone. “No man is an island,” in any sense of the word. But, too, don’t tolerate collaborators who are unreliable or uncommitted any more than absolutely necessary. You can’t build whatever it is you are trying to build when the people you work with are holding you down.
Something that has always impressed me about Kevin, and which was in evidence tonight, is his ability to step back and think about things in context and ponder deeply. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and the same is true about music. Not a single piece of music was out of place, and each piece fit into a 90-minute tour of the guitar with Kevin Wale as tour guide. I instruct recitalists in our department to choose music of merit, whether it be for its significance in the repertoire of the instrument, or its degree of difficulty or its ability to showcase the performer’s talent. Kevin very much took this to heart for this recital, and added on top a layer of thoughtfulness in programming that made the audience a part of the recital as well.
So, to address my students one more time–don’t just practice to learn music, but to dig deeply enough into the music to learn how to live. These are the real virtues of an education, whether musical or otherwise, and be grateful that you have been granted the time and the opporunity to pursue them. Congratulations again, Kevin.