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Take the Compliment

Before we get into this blog, I want you to take a moment and read the little story

below and find as many words/phrases that are associated with the color blue. It will make sense in the end, I promise.

A bluejay and a cardinal flew through

the sky, the hot sun blazing. They flew over a field of poppies, a flowing river, and wheat fields. They observed a mother fox in the cool shade with her pups. They followed a chilled wind into a village. The village was very busy. A girl with copper hair and freckles was carrying a bucket of water from the well. Some townsfolk were gathering wood to heat their homes with fires in their brick fireplaces. Others were enjoying an afternoon meal of cherries, and blueberries. Outside of the village was the local vineyard. The bluejay and the cardinal flew down to enjoy the dark blue, burgundy, and bright green grapes fresh from the vine. The farmers in their denim overalls got so angry at the birds for eating their grapes that their faces turned crimson as they yelled at the birds to get away.

Cute story, right? Okay, let’s move on.

This past winter I had the opportunity to support a few holiday performances from our local area schools in Iowa City and Coralville. The students gave outstanding performances that they all deserved to be proud of. However, I found myself surprised afterward when I heard how the students received praise from their loved ones after the performance. This was what most of the conversations sounded like:

Parent: Great job! You all sounded amazing! I’m so proud.

Student: Oh, thanks. I totally messed up in this one spot and then something happened during the second song and I just got totally lost. (etc. etc. etc.)

Now, I completely understand this response to compliments, I’m guilty of doing it myself. It is a subconscious defense mechanism. If we identify the negative things about ourselves before someone else does, we won’t get hurt. It’s normal human nature to have this reaction. The danger with this is that we start to only focus on what we perceive as “negative” and we never get to enjoy the positive, creating excessive amounts of anxiety, which is usually the opposite reason we choose to create music and art!

The great thing about human beings is that we are creatures that have the ability to make conscious choices! That means we are able to choose what we focus on in our performances (or anything else in life). Let’s say, of all the notes that you play in one concert, you missed two. Congratulations, you got the other 387 notes correct! Or, regardless of how many notes you got correct or incorrect, you got up on stage and performed. In front of real people! Do you know how terrifying that is to the average person??? Talk about an accomplishment! Not to mention all of the work you put into being able to learn your craft over the past weeks/months/years. That is dedication and you absolutely should be proud of it and indulge in the praise given by your friends and loved ones.

This kind of thinking may not come easily. There is a good chance that you have been in self-defense mode for a while. That’s okay, you can practice it (just like music lessons)! These thoughts probably won’t immediately go away. Again, that’s okay. Remember, they are there to protect you, they aren’t intending to be bad. Acknowledge these thoughts, thank them even, then let them float away and make room for the thoughts of accomplishment. Notice the beautiful sounds you made. Enjoy the energy you created on stage. Laugh at your little mistake and call it your attempt at learning to improv. Remember, no one goes to one of your performances expecting you to fail. They go to your performances to support you! Next time someone gives you a compliment and you have the urge to go into all the things that went wrong, stop yourself, and start by saying, “Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!”

Okay, let’s get back to that little story from the beginning. How many things associated with blue did you come up with?

Words associated with blue: bluejay, sky, river, cool shade, chilled wind, buckets of water, blueberries, dark blue grapes, denim overalls.

Now, read the story again, this time, focus on words or phrases associated with the color RED. How many did you come up with?

Words associated with red: cardinal, hot sun, blazing, poppies, mother fox, copper hair, heat, fire, brick, cherries, burgundy, angry, crimson.

There were MORE words associated with red than there were blue, but you may not have noticed it at first because you approached the story intending to focus on blue!

The tendency to focus on the negative can prevent us from enjoying the positive. Like a defense mechanism, we identify our flaws before someone else can, creating anxiety. However, we can choose to focus on the positive by acknowledging our accomplishments, enjoying praise, and noticing the beauty in our performances. Just like learning an instrument, positive thinking takes practice. Similarly, our minds tend to focus on what we intend to focus on, like the color blue in a story. The mind is powerful, but we can control it with conscious choices.

This blog posy was written by Christina Gentzsch, co-owner and cello faculty at Dynamic Music Studios in Coralville, IA.

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