“Honesty, is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard, and mostly what I need from you. “ Billy Joel
Honesty, it really is rare these days isn’t it? You can’t believe a thing you hear on TV, social media is a master at promoting false realities, and people tend to believe whatever they want to believe regardless of the facts.
One of my favorite examples of a lack of honesty is the “America’s Got Talent” auditions. Some of the people come in bragging about how they are the best in the world…….WRONG! They often can’t even sing on key. Then there are the others who come in thinking how horrible they are and they blow everyone away. Yet both display an amazing amount of dishonesty.
Let’s face it, we need to learn to be honest with ourselves. We may not be as good as someone else who has been doing what we’re doing for years and years, but are we really that bad? Or we need to admit that we really aren’t as good as we think we are. Then we need to make a plan to work to get to where we know we want to be. Saying we’re the best when we’re not is just as destructive as saying we’re terrible when that’s just not true.
This is where we need to be brutally honest with our students. On a weekly basis we need to encourage them in the things they are doing right, as well as point out the things that are making their performance of lesser quality than it should be. We all have to admit our shortcomings and failures and then work to change those things. Getting a “participation trophy” does not make you good! But if we only concentrate on the failures, we get so discouraged that we don’t even want to try. We must take an honest assessment of where we are on the path. This is true for us as collaborative pianists, and also true for our students. We need to spur each other on.
Part of the problem is society’s low standards right now. Anyone who gets up on a stage is a “hero” and deserves a standing ovation. Really? My piano teacher in undergrad had a philosophy about this that I have adopted as well. He NEVER gave a standing ovation unless it was the very best thing he had ever seen or heard. That’s what a standing ovation means right? That performance was the best? I gave a standing ovation when I saw Phantom with the original cast. I gave a standing ovation when I saw Riverdance and there was not one foot hitting the floor out of sync with the others. I have even given standing ovations to a couple of my students…..not because it was the best I had ever heard, but because it was the best I had ever heard them do.
If we cannot even be honest in our assessment of a mediocre performance we just viewed, then how can we be honest with our students and encourage them to be better? Demanding excellence is hard, but the outcome is way better than tacit approval of mediocrity.
One of the best ways to teach this is to go through a piece that they are working on. After they have finished, have them tell you three things that they did well. It’s amazing how some of them can’t ever figure out what they did right!
Next I have the students tell me three things that they did wrong. We can then work to fix the “broken” parts but celebrate the good parts. This teaches them to be truly honest about their work and to make progress on so many levels.
Learning to be honest in our assessments of our art and artistry is an essential part of our work and a fundamental that we must teach to our students from the very beginning.