I’ve spent all day considering the way we spend our days.
I’m currently at California Summer Music, a festival nestled in the beautiful hills of Sonoma County just north of San Francisco. It is designed for young musicians as well as recent college grads, with a focus on camber or solo musicianship. Ensembles are assigned a work of chamber music to deeply learn and eventually perform.
We rehearse, practice, eat, and sleep. Swimming, hiking, 711 slurpees, and badminton punctuate our work, and evenings pass quickly with master classes, games of cards, and dips in the hot tub.
As you well know, this is paradise for a musician.
Long, luxurious stretches of practice time accompanied by daily coaching and bouts of carefree opportunities to relax are rare. This schedule is special because it necessitates work in the clouds and in the dirt.
The concept of Clouds and Dirt, extensively discussed by Gary Vaynerchuk in his own world of entrepreneurship, is a lens through which you may look at your daily work.
If your time is spent mastering mastery, you spend most of your day making paths and walking paths on the forrest floor. You are knee deep in the nitty gritty, the detail, the grind, and the hustle. This is where the habits are changed, the notes learned, the excerpts practiced, and the metronome work executed. In the dirt, you get work done.
But the vast, complex forrest of the skill you aim to achieve, whether it be violin playing or teaching, cannot be completely explored without an aerial view. To gain a holistic view of the challenge at hand fly high above the tree line. Hover well above the dirt of the forrest floor and get an expansive view of the scope of what you are trying to do. This is the time for strategizing, compartmentalizing, and consideration. This is where you formulate your business plan, analyze your process, and ponder what it means to make art.
At California Summer Music we spend hours in the dirt. In our scheduled rehearsals, lessons, and practice time we spend hands on time without instruments. This protected space allows us to make paths and walk paths.
And, unlike our normal lives at home, we also have scheduled relaxation time at California Summer Music. During meals, pool time, and yes, even badminton matches, we have the space to ponder our musical ventures. This is when we discuss our practice habits. We compare notes on our favorite professors at potential grad schools. This is when we plan extra rehearsals and collaborative projects. And of course, this is where we entertain the inevitable question, “Why?” From the vantage of the clouds we see where we are, where we are headed, and why we are traveling in the first place.
The reason California Summer Music feels like a cleansing retreat is because it regulates the cloud and dirt time that ensures professional success.
But before you adopt this cloud and dirt modality, beware of the common mistake we often make.
In between the diligent work of mastery (dirt) and strategic, high level thinking (clouds) is a dangerous zone of short sightedness. Because the work of dirt and clouds is cognitively demanding and requires time difficult to protect, many professionals retreat to the easy median.
Bored with daily work, they leave the forrest floor by climbing into the canopy of trees closest to them. They look down from the the tree branches and sneer at their colleagues traversing paths below. They look over at the people climbing the trees next to them, and struggle to climb to even higher precarious limbs. They become so dependent on the tree, so dependent on the fictitious prestige, they never dare descend back to the forrest floor or ascend to the clouds above.
Because the work of the dirt is taxing and the insight of the clouds is scary, people live their entire lives clinging to one tree developing meaningless metrics supposedly to their advantage.
So I urge you to resist the toxic, time sucking trap between the dirt and clouds. Don’t waste time on politics, useless comparisons, and fame. Don’t track your likes on Facebook, your comments on Instagram, or your seat in orchestra. Don’t measure the size of your studio, your competition winners, or your hourly rate in comparison to the teachers in your city. Stop clutching onto the simple metrics that don’t matter.
Instead, get your head down and work. Learn a piece. Perform a piece. Teach a new skill. Take a teacher training course. Build your communication skills. Create a handout. Publish a website for your studio. Do the work.
And, ever so often, escape to your clouds to reflect. Make sure you are on course, account for what you haven’t accomplished, and begin to ponder steps decades in the future. Consider the entirety of your forrest, the work you have ahead, and then return to get your hands dirty time and time again.