Kristen Lauria
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Should Playing Music Make Us Happy?

A question performers ask themselves more often than you may think.

I love yoga and I love music.

I often create parallels between the two practices, both so connected to the breath and body, connecting the physical body with the mind and spirit. I noticed a significant improvement in how my music practice made me feel after maintaining a regular yoga practice. The things I learn about one also help me to relate to the others. Recently, I listened to an interesting podcast from Brett Larkin Yoga entitled: What to Do when Yoga Doesn’t Make You Feel Happy and couldn’t help but think many of the points applied to music. 

I have used the tally approach taking practice notes in the past, and lately, I have been tallying how many times I smile during a practice session. The count has inevitably increased since I have become aware of it, but the number of times I smile is startlingly low! (Try it for yourself, I'm assuming I am not the only person in this predicament!)

This is really eye opening for anyone that has tried to make a career out of what many believe to be simply enjoyment. Should we expect practice and rehearsals to make us happy? Certainly, during a performance I want to evoke an emotional reaction from both myself and the audience, but do we evoke a reaction from ourselves when we do daily scales, etudes, and excerpts? And should every performance make us feel joy, or are reactions such as sadness and anger equally as powerful? As a side note, I definitely don't feel unhappy from practicing and rehearsing but am commenting on the repetitiveness that comes from doing nearly the same exercises every day.

Younger students often struggle to focus and enjoy during practice sessions. I remember being a freshman in high school and my private teacher prescribed that I should practice no less than a half hour daily to improve adequately. This was the first time I took private lessons with a strictly classical professor, and he had also completely changed my embouchure and assigned repertoire much more challenging than I had ever experienced. A half hour session with these new restraints felt extremely uncomfortable and my parents had to put a kitchen timer on to make sure that I completed my daily half hour. It felt like pulling teeth. I remember being completely devastated when I overheard my father say that I must not love music very much for the short practice sessions to be so grueling. Soon after I became comfortable with my new embouchure and the difficulty of repertoire, the time I practiced every day increased without any prescription from my teacher necessary. 

Today, when I consider any day I do not practice 4 hours unsuccessful, it seems difficult to relate to my high school self. I have only missed practice days when I have to participate in long distance car rides from festivals, such as my 26-hour commute from the Miami Summer Music Festival last year. I even practice on Christmas and days I attended funerals, but I do not consider it a punishment. It has certainly become a way of life for me. Do you think we should feel joy from our daily practices, or enjoy the experience? Or should it be considered a mandatory exercise, like flossing, that keeps us healthy and able to participate in activities that we love more, such as chamber music? Certainly, I feel satisfaction when I improve a specific passage or can play a technical exercise faster than previously, but can this be considered joy? I'd like to hear other thoughts on how regular practice and performance makes you feel. 

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Should Playing Music Make Us Happy?
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