Thursday, February 07, 2008

Musicians or technicians?




They say great musicians are born, not made. Part of that I believe. Where I take exception is the part of that statement that becomes self limiting. Being born with a natural talent is obviously a great start. It doesn't mean to me that a person with a little less natural talent can't take what they have and turn it into greatness. The same holds true for riding. When a person says they weren't born to be a great rider it can turn into a self fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes if we really want something we need to look at what's getting in the way. Then remove it. What I see keeping a lot of riders from being really great is the need to maintain an Image. They don't want to risk being seen as something less than what they've built up in their minds. Insecurity rears its ugly head and stops all further progress. I saw this just the other day in someone I was trying to help out.

The rider claimed he wanted help. He even told me he'd do anything to ride like me. I told this guy he was lying. He acted all offended when I told him that. I assured him it was the truth. He'd do anything but risk looking foolish in the process of achieving greatness. We couldn't move past that. Until he can, this guy's going to languish in mediocrity.

Bear with me while I tell a little story to help set the stage.

We had a family gathering a little while back. Katie's parents celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary at the end of January. Katie and I, Katie's sister and her family, and some friends of her parents had a dinner party. It was at the sister's house. The meal was excellent and we moved on into the next phase. The invited friends were chosen because they like to share in making music. My father in law is a tinkerer. He's made a contraption that pretty much allows him to be a one man band. He's got a guitar, a harmonica, a foot operated drum, cymbals, and a few noise makers he can blow into. I think it's a little corny but it makes him happy. Katie and her sister play piano or electric keyboard. There's notebooks made up that contain the chords and lyrics. The friends bring a sampling of instruments and they all have a good time. Except me.

I wholeheartedly admit that the problem lies in my attitude towards it. I do not like to participate. Mostly because I think the one man band thing is over the top and he uses every opportunity to drag it out. I'm uncomfortable with the whole thing and I feel stupid being a part of it. Katie's father always tries to drag me in. My response is always the same:

"I make my music on a bike."

There is some musical talent floating around in my body. I play both the guitar and piano. Despite the fact that Grandpa sang bass in a barbershop quartet, I can't carry a tune in a handbasket. Or rather, perhaps it's because I choose not to. To be brutally honest, I feel foolish to think of how I'd look pouring my heart and soul into singing or making music. Combine this with the fact that I have another way to express myself and it seems I will always be a technician. Not a musician. I'm fine with that. Like I say, I make my music on a bike.

Consider those who are really great musicians or singers. On New Year's Eve PBS aired a concert from Tuscan, Italy. Under the Italian night sky Andrea Bocelli occupied a large stage. Several names from the music industry joined in at various times. Andrea sang many songs in Italian. His voice is strong and clear. As he sang you could see him living in the mood of the song. It was powerful to be drawn in along with him. Italian is a wonderful language for this kind of thing. This Italian singer and his songs were one. To hear the music and see his face was to peer into his soul. As I listened I realized this was the finished product. Years of work had passed to reach this point. What looked natural and fitting now must have looked and felt awkward in earlier times. Maybe even somewhat foolish.

What we saw now was the expressions of a Master. Imagine a younger man trying to get it right. Mistakes are made. Notes come out sounding really strange at times. Imagine trying to project a powerful and masterful presence, or persona. All the while not having really grown into it yet. Yes, there were times of looking foolish. Andrea obviously wanted mastery enough to risk these times. Few would argue that it all came together. Andrea Bocelli is truly one of the Greats today.

I feel similar on a bike. Not that I would go so far as to say I am a Great Master. No matter how high the altimeter reads it can always go higher. I don't want to say I've arrived for fear of missing out on the treasures of the journey. On the other hand, the bike under me is an extension of my being. If you watch me ride you get a glimpse of my soul. We don't technically attack corners. We dance through curves. Instead of droning down the interstate we're galloping along reveling in the feel of speed. If I can do things with a bike that most other riders can't, yet, it's because it's no longer a technical exercise. It's as natural as reaching out my arm and grasping something.

It wasn't always like this. We sure didn't start out here. Did I have my times of looking stupid as I dropped a big bike? For the 9th time? Yes, but I eventually mastered the Keyhole. Was there some embarrassment when I finally took a rider class in the 80's and found out I wasn't as competent as I thought I was? Sure. Weirdly enough, the other students were experiencing the same thing. It's part of the learning curve. The risk of looking foolish goes hand in hand with advancing skills. Avoiding the one negates the ability to gain the other. That's written in stone.

I fell down the first time I tried to ride a big street bike in the snow. And the second. And the third. Eventually I learned when to avoid it but what to do if I had no choice. In the 70's when I still thought I knew everything and really knew nothing, I ran a big street bike off the road, across the ditch, and mired the wheels in the mud. Still upright because the axles were buried. It was on a quiet country road. Some guy was kind enough to stop and help me pull the bike out. I thanked him for his help and blamed it on a dog that ran across the road. Seriously. There's always a phantom dog available when you need to find some way to cover up your lousy skills. There was no dog. I just got into a corner way too hot. I didn't have the skills to save myself, let alone avoid getting there in the first place. I finally decided this was no way to live. Literally.

The point is this. I may have some extra natural aptitude for riding. It certainly didn't show the first time I crawled up on a dirt bike. Nor onto my first street bike. Can you think of anybody who jumped on a bike for the first time and was instantly an expert rider? Unlike playing a musical instrument, I really wanted to attain mastery on a bike. If the risk of looking foolish was getting in the way, then I needed to get over it. It's attitude and work that got me where I am. Not being some sort of "born rider".

There's a lot of riders out there that want to be better. Just not enough to risk looking foolish in front of their peers. I'd love it if you'd help them understand how limiting that viewpoint is. I'm not talking about folks just learning to ride. That's a separate thing. What I'm talking about is the group of riders that has some level of competency. They might even have been riding for years and are kind of looked up to in their peer group. So many just sort of plateau here. They say they want more skills but never try. Things hold them back from reaching out for the next step. And the next one after that.

Yes, they will look foolish. Whether they practice on their own or take formal training. No way around that. Not as much as they think, though. On the other hand, think of how much more respect they'll garner when they reach the excellence they're capable of. Not to mention that little thing of being so much better able to take care of themselves out there. Being excellent is so much more fun than being mediocre!

Are we content to be technicians or do we want to be musicians? Great riders are made, not born. The key to unlocking the door to greatness is mindset. We can do it. Go for it!

Miles and smiles,

Dan


11 comments:

Steve Williams said...

There is something about singing in front of someone that takes a huge leap of humility and confidence for me. It may be the biggest and most personal challenge and I don't really understand it. Your description rung a familiar ring...

It is funny that you wrote about improvement, practice, passion and mastering a skill. Just yesterday I picked up again George Leonard's book MASTERY. It is a process you have described in your blog many times and practice and humility are certainly part of it.

I always enjoy reading posts like this that reflect on your decisions and process related to improving your skills and attitudes. They help me not only on the Vespa but in other areas I seek to improve.

Thanks for the fine writing!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Lucky said...

I think the big mental leap to become great at ANYTHING is continuous learning and attempting to improve. There aren't many great performer

In fact, my music teacher's professor told him you should always try to be significantly better than you need to be, that way if something goes wrong (in his case, a scooter crash hours before a concert, another time, slamming a finger in a car door) you can still play at the level you need to.

hmmm, maybe I should do a post about that....

Lucky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Thigpen said...

Speaking of image....I might be buying a Ninja 250 soon :)

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

"There're a lot of riders out there that want to be better. Just not enough to risk looking foolish in front of their peers. I'd love it if you'd help them understand how limiting that viewpoint is."

I regularly encourage newer riders to take a training course, and have talked to more experienced people about how helpful even a basic course was for me. (After 16+ years of riding, having no formal training.)

I think I've amply demonstrated my complete disregard for looking foolish when it comes to safety... See my new suit? (How can you not!) If I could find an advanced class I'd jump at the chance. Have even thought (briefly) about coming to OR for one of yours. And I've seen pictures of me in uniform on patrol... bulky and silly, but safe.

But in pretty much anything other than riding [where being seen is part of being safe], I don't want to be seen 'performing'. Once in a while a very close friend will hear me sing in the car, and if I absolutely must I'll talk in front of a class (to teach), but I'd rather go off on my own and work on myself _for_ myself.

Haven't played an instrument for or in front of anyone else for a long, long time, though I will occasionally on my own. (I play flute, piano, & piccolo reasonably well, and have made dying-cow noises on a trombone.)

I suppose it's a character flaw, or maybe just those INFP tendancies showing through.

irondad said...

Steve,
I'm always honored when I provide inspiration to a deep thinker like you!
Sometimes I think I may share too much of what I'm thinking. On the other hand, if everyone wears a mask there's no real communication.

Lucky,
I agree. Somewhere in the past I did a post about something similar. The question was, Is good enough really good enough? It would be interesting to read your thoughts about it.

Scott,
After seeing several of these come through our training classes I have a whole new respect for them. What sort of image might you be striving for? :)

Krysta,
I have to agree a person has to be mentally secure to go around in the Hi Viz fashion. It would be awesome to share a class with you. Admittedly, that would be quite a trip for you distance wise.

There's a lot of riders who quietly improve their skills without an audience. Just like trombone players! On the other hand, riding is such a social thing for most. I think that's the part that holds them back. They feel the need for peer approval too much. It's rare that the peers put pressure to go forward. The lowest common denominator is where the group settles in. Sad.

Take care,
Dan

Scott Thigpen said...

Well, as long as I can cruise around 80 and have a little accelration left, I don't particularly care about what image I am showing :) That was the point of my post.

However, I wasn't aware the Ninja would cruise at speeds like that comfortably, and when I asked the sales guy at the local Kawasaki dealer what a comfortable cruising speed and top speed was, he replied '55-60 and top speed is 65-700...but come look at this 2007 Ninja 1000000 cc NjUZZZZKl-6....'

I left :) But I have always loved the look of the Ninja so I think I might get one, image be darned. Although it kind of stinks that every time I see one on craigslist or ebay, it always says something like 'bought this for my wife, she wants something bigger....'

Your thoughts on this bike would be appreciated, if you have time.

vaara said...

I practice singing all the time... inside my helmet. :)

I totally agree that riding a motorcycle is an art. Any schmuck can drive a car, and most schmucks can learn enough to make a motorcycle go, but to ride artfully -- which in my book means smoothly and consciously -- is something most people seem to have have neither the inclination nor the ability to do.

And as someone who rides a V-Strom and wears a 15-year-old Aerostich suit while doing it, I'm clearly not someone who's interested in my image.

Bryce said...

Hmm another thought from me given
the more snow we have here, now abot five feet on the grond.

"They don't want to risk being seen as something less than what they've built up in their minds. Insecurity rears its ugly head and stops all further progress."

In my case it is NOW very much insecurity. In the last year and a half have had major surgery and ongoing
cancer reducing chemistry. The Lymphona is in confirmed remission.
Fine. However; also not functioning
is the physical and yes to a lesser extent the mind of the body in question. Me!

"On the other hand, think of how much more respect they'll garner when they reach the excellence they're capable of. Not to mention that little thing of being so much better able to take care of themselves out there."

And in talking with others I too was excellent.

Had a coffee (not at Starbucks)
with three friends earlier this week. All have ridden with me in the past and they all saw a major
deterioration in my riding in the
last three years. I should mention
I fell off the solo Goldwing on a
gravel strewn sideroad about three
years ago. One of the coffee group
saw me go down, at speed. The local municipality had been repaving areas, and simply left gravel spread and without warning
signs between paved and unpaved sections. It was late evening
to boot. It was my first down
in all too many years; didn't mangle me so I thought but it did
tearing all the tendons and related
internals on my left foot as the heavy bike dropped on it. Nothing
was broken however a few days later the swelling kicked in. The foot and ankle haven't been right since.

Afterwards the friends did say it was as if I had something holding me back, I rode much more slowly
and was having trouble doing corners,both at high and walking pace. And my left foot used to go down at stops, now it went down very slowly, and gingerly. I have never been one to move my butt in the seat when doing corners, have never been physically adept at such
things. Big butt, big body!

So now, whenin my mind's eye I want to start riding again am faced with a number of situations. Right up front is the steed itself. It is
26 years old, and it will require
some maintenance to bring it back to snuff. New brake lines, tyres,
and ongoing this winter rebuild the carbs. Also will have new bearings on the front wheel as well as rebuilding the swingarm. The bike has almost 250,000 on the clock.
The operator me though is the big problem. I have been exercising however the chemistry has weakened me, something I have never experienced in the past. Have thought of a sidecar or a trike but these both require strength to
use, as much as a solo machine.
Have been swimming at the local pool two days a week, the strength build up is not happening. Remember
I get a day-long booster shot of chemistry every 12 weeks which knocks me for a loop every time.

Bottom line am seriously thinking of giving up riding, which I enjoy
and have enjoyed for well over 35 years. I don't feel safe as it were with myself.

Have thought perhaps of getting am ore modern machine however, nothing fits. Sat on a new ST1300 at the
local dealer some weeks ago. There
was a front wheel there buttheb ike simply disappeared under my bulk. The 1800cc Goldwings are way too small as are virtually all other motorcycles. Heck, I can't fit in most cars these days either.

So back to your topic musicians or technicians? We can all be musicians, in our own mindby listening to the music. Wecan be technicians by having the finest equipment in the world. However only some of us can play the instrument so the sound emanating from same is excellent.

The rest of us are simply playing off key even though to our ears we are sounding on key.



Being excellent is so much more fun than being mediocre!Are we content to be technicians or do we want to be musicians? Great riders are made, not born. The key to unlocking the door to greatness is mindset.

irondad said...

Scott,
I'll take some time to put some thoughts down in the next little bit.

Vaara,
A V-strom and a road worn 'Stich? In my world that's a badge of honor! I've belted out some lyrics in my helmet, too. Glad I'm not the only one.

Bryce,
I feel your pain. I can't imagine giving up riding. That time will surely come, though. Hard as it is to back out, holding on too long can be totally wrong on several levels.
Only you can make that decision but it sounds like you're getting some honest input from friends. They're probably true friends to give you that kind of feedback.

There's an old chinese proverb:
When you come to the end of the book, close the cover.

My addition is "as painful as it may be".

No matter how big the heart, the body eventually quits responding.

Take care,

Dan

Bryce said...

"Bryce,
"I feel your pain. I can't imagine giving up riding. That time will surely come, though. Hard as it is to back out, holding on too long can be totally wrong on several levels.
Only you can make that decision but it sounds like you're getting some honest input from friends. They're probably true friends to give you that kind of feedback.

There's an old Chinese proverb:
When you come to the end of the book, close the cover.

My addition is "as painful as it may be".

No matter how big the heart, the body eventually quits responding.

Dan"

I had to give up playigthe pipe organ after mangling my foot, and really haven't returned although I
do enjoy listening to same;
however that is not the same!

As to motorcycling, your suggestion is good. I have renewed the insurance on the 1981 Goldwing.
Have a friend who is a retired Honda mechanic and services the older Goldwings such as mine for people in the now. He too has commented about my loss of ability
to do what I once did. We'll see.

If a year from now the will, the being, the desire are not there, then the bike will be sold. Time
and change is a constant.

Tx for the reply.

Bryce Lee
Burlington, Ontario
-buried under snow...an
old fashioned winter!