“Well, that’s his personality, so what can you do?”
This was the end of a recent conversation I had with another violin teacher about a student we share (he’s in a music program in her high school) whose bow arm I am trying to loosen up, a student who tenses up needlessly whenever he thinks something might be difficult, whether it is or not.
What was my answer to this question? First of all it wasn’t a real question she posed – it was a rhetorical question, meaning that she didn’t expect an answer: it’s a fact and that’s that. So my response was to mutter some nicety and hang up as quickly as possible.
What would I have liked to have said at the top of my lungs? ” WHAT, ARE YOU CRAZY? WHAT YOU JUST SAID IS A COMPLETE ABDICATION OF YOUR TEACHERLY RESPONSIBILITY!”
She would be perfectly happy to leave this student in the prison of his personality.
I, however, am not. Here is what I would have also told her if I had thought for one nanosecond that she would have listened……
What Personality Is and What You Do With It
Notice I didn’t say what it does with you.
Reflect for a moment on the original meaning of the word “person” which comes to us through Latin, possibly from Etruscan: it meant “actor’s mask.” Personality is what activates this mask. Therefore, personality is a tool we use to deal with the everyday world. It’s what we present to the world. It’s what likes and dislikes things. It’s what exhibits everyday emotion. It is the most superficial part of us that is most apparent but it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, confused with our character, soul, animus, true nature, etc., which is what manifests art. The problem is that we tend to identify with our personality and think anything that it manifests is our “real” selves. Why? Because it makes the most noise and therefore gets the most attention. But consider this example: if you look at the sea, you may see great crashing waves on the surface – but it can be very calm below. Which one of these is the real sea? Where do all marine creatures live? What you see, therefore, is not necessarily what is. What is most obvious and makes the most noise can be so much smoke in your eyes, obscuring another reality. Look at personality as the great crashing waves which is what gets our attention and character being the deep calm underneath (where all the fascinating creatures live) which is what uses the personality, not vice versa, to transmit art.
Sometimes personality can be very commanding and therein lies the problem: it’s extremely useful for a musician to have a strong personality in order to get up and perform in public, just as it is useful to a teacher. In a way, it’s a sort of paradox – the very quality that is extremely useful to us to play and to teach is often the very quality that can get in the way of these activities – or having a relaxed bow arm in the case of my student. How to get past this? Continue reading