Mlle. Nadia Boulanger on Attention and a Life Well-Lived
“Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.”Nadia Boulanger
Nadia Boulanger was one of the most influential music teachers of the twentieth century. Many of the best and brightest went to Paris to study with her.
Leonard Bernstein, Phillip Glass, Astor Piazzola, Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, and hundreds of others sought her out. Instrumentalists and composers alike flocked to her studio.
Stories abound of her teaching. She was heavy on fundamentals. She expected full attention.
And not just attention to her – but attention to every moment of practice and performance. She, as well as anyone, knew good music when she heard it. (She was also a respected music critic.) She could hear distraction in a single note.
And she knew that practice does not stop when we put down our instruments.
To play guitar with calm awareness – to listen and respond in the moment, we cannot train this in 30 minutes a day. It’s a habit. It’s a thread we weave throughout all of life.
We cannot expect our minds to clear when we play, if they are never clear otherwise.
One of the fastest ways to improve at guitar is to build the “awareness muscle” throughout our daily lives. To see that at which we look. To hear the sounds around us. To stay alert to what we’re doing.
And what is all this for? Why is this important?
For one, this trains us to recognize when we’re NOT aware, so we can bring our attention back to the task at hand.
When we first decide to pay attention, we’ll notice our mind wandering. Sometimes more, sometimes less so.
And when we notice, we can simply refocus our attention. No shame, no blame – it’s normal. Until we train the muscle, it will likely be weak.
Over time, we recognize the mind-wandering sooner. So we spend less time distracted by inner dialog. And we get better at letting the stray thoughts go and returning to alert awareness.
It’s an ongoing practice. It can last a lifetime, and so much the better. Not only does it help with our masterpieces, it also yields cleaner windows!