Friday, December 12, 2008

Living on One-Buttock

Ealier this week, I did a post around Malcolm Gladwell’s insights from his recently released book Outliners. Part of his thesis explores the various ways in which our culture squanders talent and human potential. Benjamin Zander is another individual who has much to say about human potential. He has dedicated his life to “pulling out” and developing aspiring musicians to excel beyond the status quo. Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. He has some inspiring and provoking thoughts on our view of the world, possibility, leadership and personal transformation.

Zander contends that many people in the world approach life from one of two vantage points. One group sees the world as a place of “the downward spiral”. Regardless of the situation, they are predisposed to see what’s wrong. The other, look at the exact same circumstances, yet conclude that this is a situation of “radiating possibility”.

He shares the following story in regards to our view of situations.

There once were “two salesmen who went to Africa in the 1900s: they were sent down to see if there was any opportunity for selling shoes and they wrote telegrams back to Manchester. And one of them wrote: ‘Situation hopeless. Stop. They don’t wear shoes.’ And the other one wrote: ‘Glorious opportunity, they don’t have any shoes yet.’”

Recently, Zander gave a presentation at the Pop! Tech 2008 conference. It is a brilliant presentation! It is one of the most passionate, authentic and inspiring presentations I can remember seeing in some time. He models what it means to give way to your passions and do what he calls “playing on buttock.”

It is not enough to know a piece of music intellectually. It is not even enough to play it without any mistakes, which is all most ever aspire to. Zander says that beyond the notes of the page, you have to convey the true language of the music emotionally. Something happens, Zander observes, when a musician goes beyond the notes and the score on the page and begin to play the music from the heart with emotion. Such playing deeply moves the audience. When the music flows through a musician like this, it begins to take over their very bodies, they sway, they move side to side and back and forth, there’s a rhythm and a groove. As they play, their bodies lean, even to the point of being on “one buttock.” They become “one-buttock players.”

In doing so, one allows the music flow through their bodies, causing them to lean and to move from one buttock to the other. If you’re a musician, or making a performance of virtually any kind, and you are totally in the moment and connecting with the language of the music and the audience, there is no way you can be a “two-buttock player.” You’ve got to move, you’ve got to connect, and you must not hold back your passion but instead let the audience have a taste of the commitment, energy, and passion you have for the music. To play on “one-buttock” means we allow ourselves to give way to God-given passion(s). This doesn’t only apply to musicians. It applies to all of us.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy,
a quickening that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all of time,
this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through
any other medium and it will be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is
nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.”

~Martha Graham quoted in
The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander

Each of us has a choice.
We can give way to passion and live on “one-buttock” or we can hold back, aim not to make an error and play life on “two-buttocks.” One life is lived in mono black and white, while the other resounds in full colors and stereo surround sound. One is safe, the other is risky. One is dead and decaying, the other is alive and vivrant.

As Ben Zander
said to one of his talented students while encouraging them to play it in the “one-buttock” style:

“If you play that way,
they won’t be able to resist you.
You will be a compelling force
behind which everyone
will be inspired to play their best.”

~Ben Zander

Below is Zander’s phenomenal presentation at Pop!Teck 2008 given back in October.

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