I just got back from 10 days in England and Sicily. I still get giddy from boarding a plane without a cello–Talk about luxury! The trip was 50% family and 50% vacation, but it was 0% work.
The time was full of deep meaningful conversations, laughter, ancient ruins overlooking Mt. Etna, some very good wine, and the most incredible food. The colors, sounds, smells, and sights all filled me with a sense of renewal, and I came back feeling inspired.
Even during my years as a professional cellist, I felt the need to get away sometimes. Not necessarily “Away from the Cello” but towards my life as “Just Kate.”
I was warned not to post photos on social media in case contractors and presenters saw them. God forbid they knew I had, after 25 years of daily practicing, taken SEVEN WHOLE DAYS OFF! Clearly, they would never again want to hire such a reckless human.
The idea that we must practice every day has been ingrained in us from the start. Even the wonderful Dr. Suzuki famously quipped: “You don’t have to practice your instrument every single day. Only the days you eat!”
In our school years, counting up practice hours is an obsession. It’s how we rank ourselves amongst our peers. The more one practices and the more disciplined one is, the more social clout they have. Everyone else aspires to be like them.
And as students, it makes sense. There is SO much to learn. So many notes! Chamber music, Orchestra, Concertos, Solo Bach. The music you need for All-state, the music you need for the competition, and the music you need for summer festival auditions, etc., etc. And we’re building our technique. We’re not just learning how to perfect a certain passage of a piece, we’re learning the technique required to be able to play that passage to begin with.
The problem is that the sense of morality that gets twisted up in our student practice routines (If you practiced, you’re “Good” and if you didn’t, you were “Bad”) doesn’t seem to leave us once we’ve been deemed proper professionals.
The scarcity mindset of “Right now, someone else is practicing for the job you want” stays right there by our side, like a loyal pet.
My friend Simon had that saying as the screen saver on his computer. It tormented him every single time he looked at it.
As an adult, and as a professional, you know what you need to do. As an artist, you know yourself, you know your craft, and you know how much time you really need. And at some point, we need to allow ourselves to think of it as our job, rather than our innate identity; our sole purpose in life.
The best way to figure that out is to take some time away.
I’ve always loved the idea of traveling to exotic locations, and I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of it. Of course, my music career took me all over–including to places like Kenya and Zambia, and all throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, but I also once took a month off one summer and went to Morocco without my cello to volunteer at an orphanage and travel around.
I didn’t tell anyone I was a cellist, and since the people around me didn’t see me as a musician, it was easier for me to see new things without that lens as well. I could appreciate a beautiful space not as a potential concert venue, but for the vivid colors of the flowers in the garden, or the handpainted tiles on the floor.
I didn’t listen to their traditional music with an ear for the modes they used, the structure of their songs, or anything other than the lyrical sound of the words and whether it made me want to dance or not.
If we’re lucky, we love what we do. I certainly loved being a cellist. I even loved practicing. It was something that looked forward to each day. That was partly a gift from my teacher, who said that practice time was OUR time. We don’t have to answer calls, or answer questions, we don’t have to think about anything that is troublesome in our life. It is our safe space from the big bad world.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t OTHER wonderful things out there that we can enjoy. Sometimes, those other things and our craft coincide–like when I was invited to play a concert at the ruins of Ephesus–such a cool experience!
But sometimes they’re mutually exclusive. You can go on Safari, or you can practice. You can hike the Appalachian Trail, or you can practice.
There’s no room in that pack for a cello. Or a canvas, or a barre.
It’s important that we are able to, as adults, detach ourselves from that childhood mantra of “Discipline means EVERY DAY.” to put our craft down for a moment and say, “I’m off on an adventure, I’m going to see wild new things, and I’ll tell you all about it when I’m back!”
The reason the work of an old master is often so much more compelling than the new young thing is the level of life one can feel in their work. We as viewers and listeners can feel the depth of emotions that a life well-lived brings to the table. The exuberance, the loss, the feelings of being lost, and then found. Of heartbreak and love.
One cannot properly convey the vivid landscape the world has to offer if you’ve never left the practice room. If you’ve only traveled as your artist self, seeing everything through the lens of your craft–it’s too limiting.
Wouldn’t it be great if the idea of an artist taking time to do interesting things OTHER than make our art wasn’t such a novelty? If adult, professional musicians, painters, dancers, and actors were able to trust their ability to be away from their craft without completely forgetting how to do it? That the idea of taking a few days off won’t actually undo 30 years of work?
And also, wouldn’t it be amazing if we were all inspired, and well-traveled, and could put visual imagery of newly explored places into our toolboxes of expression?
Friend, whether you simply take a random Thursday off and drive to a new town to sit in a Starbucks and people-watch, or you hop on a plane to see Machu Picchu, I hope that you will give yourself permission to take some time off. Free of guilt, free of judgment, and full of life.
Go set that “Out of Office” response and get packing!
P.S. Are you on The List yet? If you enjoyed this blog post and want more insider info on how to thrive as a creative, be sure you get on the list to receive my Friday “Weekend List.” Each one is loaded up with additional tips, tricks, and things to think about, including a new curated list of articles, books, podcasts, and things that I think you’d enjoy. Click Here to Get the Weekend List!