I work with a number if brilliant people. Many of them have an incredible understanding of theory and can posit ingenious arguments for why we should do something in a particular way.
Many of them, however, could not work their way out of a paper bag if their life depended on it. While they have great intellect, the lack an important characteristic, work ethic.
The really good people with whom I’ve worked are not the most brilliant. Many are not the sharpest tacks in the box. But they have one thing that separates them from the others, many of whom are far more brilliant thinkers. They have work ethic.
When presented with a problem, these individuals will work until the problem is solved. They dedicate their time, indefatigably, to solving the issue.
You may know someone like that in your pipe band. That individual may not be the most talented piper. He or she may have problems with particular embellishments. He or she may struggle with particular rhythmic patterns. They don’t, however, let that get in the way. If the pipe major hands them a new tune, they learn the tune. At the next practice, they have the tune memorized. Since they have it memorized, the can work on refining it.
Consider the converse. You may know someone in your pipe band that is incredibly talented. To them, embellishments are a toy. They can execute the most difficult movement flawlessly. But, when they show up for band practice, they have not memorized the tune. They have not put in the effort. They are not prepared. They suffer from a poor work ethic.
There is only so much that talent and ability can do for you. Eventually, you need to sit down and work through the problems associated with being a piper. That takes time. There a few that can sit down and execute a crunluath correctly on the first try. It takes repetition. Then, more repetition. And then, more after that. You can give up on the first or second try. But you only cheat yourself. You benefit if you eventually embrace the phrase from MacBeth’s soliloquy, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”
MacBeth’s words were rather rueful. He was, after all, desolate and anxious about his foretold doom. We certainly want to take a more optimistic attitude toward our work ethic. We don’t want to consider it to be a tale, “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Rather, we work today and then work again tomorrow and again the following day. The pace may be petty. Over time, though, we improve. We improve because we worked yesterday and the yesterday before that. The changes in your playing may be subtle; you may note that you can now easily execute embellishments that were, at one time, challenging.
Eventually, as you embrace “tomorrow and tomorrow,” you note that the pettiness slips from the pace and you look forward to the next practice session. As you cultivate your work ethic, you begin to find optimism and a belief that you can execute difficult passages.
Becoming a good musician takes, to quote Churchill, “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” There will be days where the going gets tough. You deal with dejection. But, if you cultivate and embrace your work ethic, you will eventually improve and the pace will not seem so petty.