“Wise artists seek out critical evaluations.”
–The Musician’s Way
As musicians it is important for us to receive endorsement for our work. This may come from teachers and mentors, colleagues, friends and family, critics and audience members: whatever its source, it has value.
Positive endorsement of, for example, our playing naturally makes us feel good and keen to stay the course on the musician’s journey. It boosts our confidence – and a confident musician will take positive endorsement at face value, whereas one who is less confident may try to read between the lines for a hidden agenda or see an imagined backhanded compliment.
Those of us who study with teachers like to be told we have played well, to receive praise from the teacher for our work, but even criticism, if framed with the right vocabulary, can be constructive and regarded as useful endorsement. Critiquing of our work allows us to develop and grow and it feeds our creativity, encouraging us to strive for better technical control, more vibrant sound, greater expression or more profound and original interpretations in our music.
Endorsement from other sources can be equally as meaningful and valuable as that which we receive from teachers and mentors. (Why else, for example, do we read reviews of our work?) Sometimes the most meaningful comments can come the audience.
Take endorsements and criticism at face value and be generous in your response, even if you don’t entirely agree with it. If someone says something you disagree with, perhaps ask them to explain their comments in more detail. Treat it as impersonal information, evaluate it and try to resist taking a defensive stance. Go away and think about the comments, and, if appropriate, act on them or reject them.
Of course, sometimes we come up against negative comments or criticism which has no real value to us. Musicians tend to be sensitive souls and despite our best efforts it can sometimes be very hard to retain a thick skin about negative comments.. In these instances, unless the negative feedback has any value, it is better to step back and move on.
It is also important to “self-endorse” – to praise ourselves when our playing is going well. I encourage my students to self-evaluate, at lessons and in their practising at home, and being able to identify passages played well is as important as identifying areas which need extra attention.