Steven Banks

Saxophonist. Educator. Inclusion Advocate.

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

- Ludwig van Beethoven

Reaching Greatness? (Disclaimer: I'm an INFJ)

"There's no rest. This is the rest. I get to play with Walter, Vic, and everybody. That's the rest."        - Wynton Marsalis

It is 4 o'clock in the morning here in Berea, OH. Usually, I am either asleep or having deep conversations with myself in my own head at this hour. Today, however, I wanted to see if I could get out of my own head a bit and see what you might have to say.

I recently watched a short film about the collaboration between Wynton Marsalis and violinist Nicola Benedetti to bring Marsalis' newest violin concerto to life. All of the quotes in this blog post are transcribed from that film. I am always intrigued to see what musical masters have to say about their craft and to hear about how they live in general. They lead extraordinary lives that they've built for themselves with an extremely high level of artistry, ability, and real-world prowess.

"I really care. I'm not going to lie about that. Some people will just either not be honest about that or they don't, but I REALLY care."                                                                                                 - Nicola Benedetti

As an aspiring concert-artist, I am so perplexed by the work-life balance of people like Marsalis and Benedetti. They are ALWAYS working! It's mentioned in the film the Benedetti practiced 14 hours one day. It's also easy to tell that they both have strong personalities and personal commitment to what they do. They are fortunate to do what they love but at the expense of some other parts of life. When I look back at many historical figures that have made a major lasting impact on the music world, I find that there is a shared obsession with something or at least something that makes them stand out as particularly unique. It could be practicing, bird calls, time or anything really. People remember them for that and think critically about how their personality and life circumstances might influence the understanding of the music they created. I could be wrong, but I don't imagine that they all had the greatest sense of life balance or concern for mental health. I'm not hoping to imply that you have to be crazy to be significant, of course, but it seems like there's always something unusual. I'm curious about your thoughts on this. 

"The last two months I've been up at four and five o'clock in the morning, getting up after going to bed at two, and working all day doing gigs and being on the road."                                              - Wynton Marsalis

Today, it seems like many of us are taking more steps to take care of ourselves and lead healthy, robust, diverse lives. We are working to be more mindful, sensitive to the needs of others, and easy to work with. I am constantly struggling to find the balance between being easy to work with and "nice" while still trying to maintain and respect my own love and obsession for pushing myself to the absolute limit to create something new that will make a lasting impact on the world.

"It's so difficult to have those conversations where you trying to say to somebody that you think it's great, but maybe it's just...not this or not that. Ugh, I hate it."                                                       - Nicola Benedetti

I've never really been one that loves pleasantries when it comes to working on and rehearsing music. I like to get down to business and make things happen, and maybe relax and celebrate at the end of the process. Of course, I have learned (sometimes the hard way) how to be more agreeable, accepting, and flexible in rehearsals. However, I genuinely think that is sometimes at the expense of creating the best product.

"I don't know if too much is done like this. It's unorthodox. I think if you want unusual results you have to do something unusual."                                                                                                              - Wynton Marsalis

I'm very interested in hearing how others approach this dilemma. Where do your priorities lie? Is it wrong to care more about legacy than being happy in the moment? How can we expect greatness by doing what we're "supposed" to? What is hard work? Is being innovative and interesting a new substitute for developing a more focused depth in one type of artistry? How can one live by the book and still write a story no one has ever heard?