Reflections: The Art of Pain

Marie Taglioni was a famous dancer in the heyday of romantic ballet.  Her father pushed her to practice so hard that she was all but unconscious when she was finished with her practicing for one day.  Rather than growing to hate dancing, she loved it more, and so became one of dance history’s idolized goddesses.  (I read this in my Ballet and Modern Dance book.  It’s by Jack Anderson, and it’s on page 83, if you wanted to know.)  I love this story.  I love how it recognizes the pain involved in true artistry.  Pain, rather than causing the artist to hate their art, causes them to love it more.  I’ve been reflecting on this recently, perhaps because I started participating in a chamber music group.  We are performing Baroque-era works by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Bach, Vivaldi, and Giovanni Pergolesi.  I’ve also started to take violin lessons with Momo Enchev, a Bulgarian violinist here at Long Beach for graduate studies.  He has a track record of practicing for seven to eight hours every day.  I was amazed when I heard that, and I continue to be amazed at people who go major in music performance.  For these people, four, five, or six hours of practice is not a novel idea.  How do their arms hold up to that? I’m tired in just about 50 minutes of continuous playing.  They must really, really love their violin to play like that.  That must be painful.

I think our human finiteness allows us to truly excel in only one thing.  How many sets of 10,000 hours can we devote to multiple disciplines?  How is it possible to devotedly love more than one art?  That’s a lot of mental energy.  That’s a lot of endurance.  If I wanted to be a performance major (which I don’t) AND a Chinese studies/ Asian languages major, (which I do ), I’d have to practice for 5 hours per day, plus make flashcards, do homework, read, and write for another 6-7 hours, which totals 11-12 hours not including going to class, let’s say that’s 3.75 hours/day—now we’ve used 14.75-15.75 hours out of 24—and I haven’t gotten to eating, sleeping, doing laundry, organizing your stuff and trying to hang out with other people—24 hours a day just doesn’t do it all.  And we haven’t mentioned the possibility of burnout.  Ouch.

I guess that’s not a very good conclusion, so I’ll finish with this thought: We get one set of 10,000 hours. Those hours will shape us into who we want to be—when we can endure them.

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