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Stripping Away the Inessential

Stripping Away the Inessential

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Joanne Rowling, a young woman living in Edinburgh raising her daughter, had realized one of her greatest fears. “I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

Rowling, however, feared failure more than she feared poverty. Her life story holds an inspirational lesson for pipers.

You may know Joanne Rowling by her nom de plume, J.K. Rowling. She has sold over 450 million copies of her Harry Potter books. Many educators and critics consider her books to be cornerstones in young adult literature.

Her life story is inspirational because she learned from her failure. She noted, “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was.”

Stripping away the inessential: As musicians, and particularly as pipers, we deal with failure all too often. Failure is not necessarily an inherent part of music. Success, though, is not either. Rowling had hit absolute rock bottom. But she had a “big idea.” She was at a crossroads. She persevered, stripped away the inessential, and ascended to the high road.

If we fail, there is a reason. We can wallow in self-pity or we can strip away the inessential and rise above our failures. In the Dojo U method of learning, which, in my estimation, is consistent with Rowling’s notion of stripping away the inessential, we examine why we failed and apply rational thought to solve the problem.

For example, I recently submitted a recording to my instructor for review. Before submitting it, I listened to it and thought to myself, “man, that sounds awful!” I had worked long and hard on the piece and I was not, seemingly, making any progress. I was at the crossroads. I could have drowned myself in pity. Fortunately, before I traveled too far down that road, I remembered Rowling’s words. The emotions, the self-pity, they were inessential. I stripped them away.

I listened to my recording once again and noted each mistake. My grips, in particular, stuck out. I either crushed the grip by missing the D gracenote or my grip was uneven and out of sync with the music. I backed up the truck and worked on my grips. True to the Dojo U method, I slowed the tempo way down and focused on playing each step of the grip accurately and evenly.

The most important lesson was breaking my failures down and identifying why my recording sounded “awful.” By applying rational thought rather than emotion, I was able to work through the problems and produce a better recording the following week.

You, too, may find that, at some point, you are hitting "rock bottom" in your bagpipe playing. You’ve worked hard, but the tune is not coming together and, in your estimation, is sounding “awful.” When you are at the crossroads, remember Rowling’s words, “strip away the inessential.” Apply some rational thought to your problems, attack them one at a time, break them down, and ascend to the high road.

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Robert Mathieson - Mastering Grips, Taorluaths, and D Throws [Vintage]
Grips & Taorluaths [Vintage]

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Mark Olson Mark Olson is a software engineer in Omaha, NE. Over the years, he has played numerous musical instruments including the bagpipes, guitar, piano, flute, and saxophone. As a young man, Mark competed as a solo piper. Due to the demands of raising a family, Mark had to forgo his musical pursuits. While he regrets the fact he gave up the bagpipes, he is proud of the fact that both of his sons have grown to be fine young men. With the nest now empty, he has picked up the pipes once again. If he gets his chops, and his groove, back, he plans to compete again as a solo piper.

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