Steven Banks

Saxophonist. Educator. Inclusion Advocate.

"To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable"

- Ludwig van Beethoven

Keep on Keepin' On

Artistry is an elusive concept. Many artists strive to develop their work, at the least, to a point where it is artistically viable to an audience that can support them. Most young artists look for validation of their artistry from teachers, competition panels, and their peers. I believe that this search for validation and approval is good in some ways.  It ensures that you are aware of how your work is being received and how it fits in the pedagogical lineage of your particular art form. However, searching for validation in one's artistry can be detrimental if you allow it to take away from the integrity of your work. Many successful artists and creative minds (particularly the ones that I admire) will tell you that being comfortable with your true voice is of utmost importance to fostering a lasting, successful career.

The great concert pianist, Andre Watts, once told me that he stopped reading his reviews many years ago because he realized that it is not possible to please all of the critics. When I asked Mr. Watts about finding my own musical voice, he told me very plainly that one should not search for their musical voice at all. He said that one's musical voice already exists within, and we have to have the confidence and wherewithal to follow our intuition and let that voice shine through. This advice was not meant to discredit the value of making informed, thoughtful decisions in one's creativity, but to show what he believes should be a top priority for an artist. 

Following one's inner voice goes far beyond the fine arts as well. Many of you may be familiar with Steve Jobs' (creator of Apple and incredible innovator) opinion on dogma and creativity:

"Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. "

These lofty concepts of self-confidence and creativity are much more easily said than implemented. It seems that nearly everyone has to pay dues by doing things that don't fit into their personal creative vision. It is almost as if you have to earn the right for your opinion to be considered viable by the world, and once you have passed this threshold, you are much more free to express what is in your heart.

Speaking as someone that has not yet passed this threshold in the classical music/classical saxophone community, it can be extremely difficult to hold on to an artistic vision before you've been "validated" with a teaching job or some incredible accomplishment. Before reaching this point as a musician, it seems that many are listening to judge or evaluate. After an audience has learned what you have accomplished, I often notice that people are then listening in a much more positive frame of mind to confirm to themselves what makes you worthy of whatever your standing is in your community. If nothing else, they can find something about the performance to say, "oh, this is why they're well-known and respected." There will, of course, always be the jealous ones, who are listening to find any possible way to bring someone down,  but in my experience so far, there are less of these people than some would believe.

Please do understand that these are just my thoughts as a 22-year-old striving musician, and I am very aware that my thoughts on these issues will change as time passes and I experience more of the world. With that said, I have written this post to challenge myself, other artists, and creative people in my position to stay the course and to value your intuition, passion, and ideas. There has never been, and never will be, another YOU on this earth. You might as well rejoice in the beauty of your individuality.