Practice Makes ... Perfect?

This is the story that I started to write last week, but couldn't, without first introducing you to that classical music podcast hosted by a friend I had known many years ago. But now that you have been brought up-to-date, as it were, I can get on with it ...

A recent episode of the podcast was devoted to the topic of practicing, something that is very much a part of the life of a classical musician. Chris, the host of the podcast, discussed some of the physical underpinnings of practicing, as well as a number of specific techniques that he encourages his students to use. He really went into the topic quite deeply, and indeed, referred to what he was doing as 'deep practice'.

Now I mentioned last week that although he and I had started out together, only one of us ended up continuing with music to make a career out of it. He still plays bassoon; I do something else. And if I had to pin down a single reason for why I didn't become a musician and he did, it would be this issue of practicing. Back then he practiced seriously, and forty years later, he is apparently still doing so.

I never practiced. I loved playing my instrument, and had it out of the case endless hours every day, but simply playing isn't enough. You have to make sensible use of your time with the instrument, and make conscious and dedicated efforts to improve your skills and achieve advancements.

So no problem. He earned his progress; I stepped aside.

But this brings up a very interesting question. His field of endeavour - musical performance - has these two very different 'modes', practice and performance. But my field - creating visual works - has no such differentiation. I don't 'practice', I just 'do'.

We can easily understand how practice works for the musician, seeing him sitting there repeating and repeating a phrase until he can play it smoothly. But what is the analogue in printmaking? I would never sit there mixing blue and yellow, repeating it over and over again until I get just the right shade of green. I just mix what I want, and use it. There is nothing for me to 'practice'. For me everything is performance. Every minute of my time in the studio, from morning 'till night, is involved in the work that will be presented to the person who finally receives the print.

What an interesting difference! The musician spends many hours preparing the ability to do something, and then at a particular fixed moment, 'presents' the product to a consumer. But in my case, I'm 'on stage' all day, every day!

And because it is woodblock prints that I am making - which are very transparent and open works - every cut on every block, and every tint of every impression end up being clearly visible in the finished product. There really is no place to hide, so the conceit that I am 'performing' is not fantasy; it is quite real. Although, unlike the situation for the musician at concert time, nobody is actually here in the room with me, they are indeed 'listening' at that very moment ... at every moment.

I think I had better stop thinking about this, or I'm going to begin to get stressed about it. To be on stage all day every day, with never a chance to practice something before I have to present it. Talk about living dangerously!

So I suspect Chris probably has a misleading image of me in his mind. He might be recalling me in terms like this: "Dave? Oh sure, I remember him; a fine player. But you know, he really didn't have the ability to buckle down and work on things; he just wanted to 'play' all the time ..."

Chris, you got it right!


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