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Insert the words; my child, myself, my student, my colleague, or someone’s name in the blanks as appropriate.

I will not compare ____________________to Horowitz, Rubinstein, Brubeck, the tenant on the floor above me, or anyone else. I will help ____________________ be the best musical  ____________________ possible.

In preparation for my masters recital, I spent a weekend listening to every performance of Schubert’s great Bb Sonata I could get my hands on. At my lesson the next week, I added a rolled chord (of which I was much enamored) to the first movement. My teacher exploded. “But,’ I said, “Rubinstein does it.” “You’re NOT Rubinstein,” he replied acerbically. Of course I took it wrong. I thought he was saying I could never play that well when he was really telling me was to be myself–not to just copy willy nilly.

A young talented boy came to study with me just a year after his older brother, also an accomplished pianist, had died in an accident. For the first year or two, I regularly heard statements like, I want to play X because my brother didn’t get to, or because my brother did. It broke my heart that he was trying to live someone else’s life. The breakthrough piece for him was Chopin’s Nocturne Op.15 No.3 where he was finally able to meld all his emotions and feelings into the interpretation—to be himself but still honor his brother.

One of my colleagues, who now lives far away, gave up the piano completely because she couldn’t bear not to be able to do everything she heard her fellow students doing, the way she heard them doing it. Her musical life was a constant unfulfilled chase and she was unable to get out of this destructive cycle and be her own musical self.  She blamed herself for not being good enough, when, what she actually needed to do was embrace who she was and find out what she was good at.

So, this is one of my musical resolutions for the New Year: I will not compare myself or my students to Horowitz, Rubinstein, Brubeck, the tenant on the floor above me, or anyone else. I will help myself and my students be the best musical ourselves possible.

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