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October 19, 2016

Alexander Technique violinViolinists have big egos! Is it true?

Personally, I suspect that’s just as true as saying “musicians have big egos” or “people have big egos”. But what does having a “big ego” mean, anyway? And why is there a stereotype about violinists having big egos?

Every type of instrumentalist can be associated with a stereotype. I won’t go into any more of them here because (a) you’ve surely heard most of them before, and (b) it’s probably not helpful to keep spreading them!

But stereotypes usually stem from an element of truth, and since I’m a violinist I feel OK about opening myself up to the usual criticism of egocentricity that comes with the territory I chose.

Why do we violinists seem more egocentric than other instrumentalists? Well…. violinists (at least in classical symphonic or chamber music settings – and especially 1st violinists) do traditionally play the most melodies, have prominent solos, and play one of the highest melodic voices that are heard most of the time. We also sit at the front of the stage. Prominent, high, constant, and visible… and competitive for that attention… enough said!

But what I really want to talk about today goes much deeper than the stereotype of egotistical violinists, because the ego issue is NOT just about violinists. It’s about our beliefs about ego-size – as if this were something of a substance that could be measured!

So much has been written over the ages – especially in spiritual and psychological writings – about ego. Instead of echoing those ideas here, though, I’d like to just present one aspect that I think is all too easily overlooked and rarely acknowledged. And the absence of this aspect is a HUGE problem!! It’s the awareness that ego is an aspect of the mind-body-Self, which is not separable from the body any more than it is separable from our thoughts or actions.

It is my belief – and my experience which supports the belief – that people in general want to be good and to do good. We want to be modest or humble, not displaying lots of ego or self-centeredness. We want to be kind and generous, and to connect with others in respectful, loving ways. We want to goodness and beauty, and help people be happy.

Those are all wonderful intentions, but those wishes can get terribly warped – even to the point of turning into the OPPOSITES of those things – when we are too attached to our desire for them and when we ignore how the body reflects the relative intensity of those intentions.

An important notion in the Alexander Technique is called “end-gaining”. End-gaining basically means that we’re overly focused or attached to our desires, in such a way that we neglect the “means-whereby” we employ to achieve our “ends/goals”. We don’t know how to be detached… we don’t know how to let go… we work too hard and forget to seek, find, and be Peace above all else.

Alexander Technique violin
Image courtesy of sira anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When we are too attached to our desire to be HUMBLE, we work hard at making ourselves SMALL so that we don’t come across as having a BIG ego. Unfortunately, by working hard at being humble (focusing on it too much… being too attached to the idea… caring too much about what other people think… entertaining a fear of looking or being selfish, etc.) we put a lot of unnecessary pressure on ourselves and introduce a lot of excess tension into our mind-bodies. We are literally trying to compress ourselves into a smaller space than the space we have been designed to occupy in order to function optimally.

In my opinion, making ourselves smaller than our natural design is actually a false humility. Even with the best of intentions, making ourselves small (in a spiritual-psychological-mental-emotional-physical way, since those aspects of self really can’t be separated) means that we believe we have the power to shrink ourselves and reduce ourselves in the eyes of others; it also means we are blocking the natural energetic flow of goodness and generosity that we should be allowing ourselves to express outwardly, giving the best of ourselves to the world – in a “big”, magnanimous way.

To me, TRUE humility is to notice the reality that we are neither small nor large: we are infinitely larger than the smallest atomic particles and infinitely smaller than the furthest galaxies. We’re in the middle, and our consciousness – our whole mind-body-self-awareness needs to reflect that. (See my podcast: Living with Ease at the Center of the Universe.)

Of course, we can’t be aware of this all the time – or even most of the time. We’re human. We forget. And we can certainly forgive ourselves and others – over and over – for erring in the direction of trying to make ourselves too big or too small.

So, let’s do whatever we can to remind ourselves – just by being who we are and occupying the internal and external space that we’ve been given – remembering that we are perfectly whole in the middle. Not too big, not too small, prominent and not, loud and soft, high and low, rich and  poor.

There’s nothing to “DO” in order to be humble! It’s the excessive “doing” or “trying” that feeds the illusions of the ego. To BE humble is to BE human. To BE human is to BE human… not to DO human, or to DO humble. Humble is simply to notice the present moment, and to accept it as fully as possible, without DOING anything to make ourselves bigger or smaller than we are.

Violinists and non-violinists: stop trying to be right, play loud, have a huge sound. Stop trying to be bright, strong, powerful, good, humble, modest, or even the best you can be.  Just STOP all of that – stop wasting your energy with those useless thoughts – and just BE wholly and authentically who you find yourself to be in this precise moment – NOW.

Stop trying, and just open yourself up to the reality of your rich humanity, mistakes and all, and BE your honest Self. Then make music if you want, and watch your open sound reflect your open Self. With Love!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Please comment below and SHARE THIS POST – let’s spread inspiration all over the world together!
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acceptance, Awareness, consciousness, ego, end-gaining, infinitude, instruments, mind-body unity

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  1. Egos. Fascinating topic. I think they’re relative to the parameters of the symphony itself, and then among the players themselves.

    I honestly don’t have an issue with genuinely skilled players coming together to make the best music possible – whether the people involved are self-confident or self-deprecating. The bottom line is whether or not the group as a whole has a working synergy that enables them to pull together.

    And alas, the irony is that in those peculiar instances where one’s ego over-rides the well-being of the end result, the musical performance of a large ensemble, and with the ego far in excess of that musician’s skills, the end result is never satisfying for the group.

    The complete opposite is also true. When lead position players have an inadequate perception of their own skills, their playing often seems less than that which one would hope to hear.

    Neither is beneficial to the symphony. There is a genuine lack of emotional and musical balance. It is both an audible and a general sense of unwellness.

    Ego and humility alone are not problematic. It is when the perceptions held by musicians possessing those traits reflect a skewed sense of self-worth that the imbalances become damaging.

    Thanks for today’s brain candy!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Nancy! I agree that an orchestral environment can be thrown out of balance when musicians have a skewed sense of self-worth – either thinking too much or too little of themselves. The well-being of the whole does indeed reflect the well-being of its parts!

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