When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.
– Jacob Riis
I’m almost five years into my journey back to healthy trumpet playing, and as I look back on the whole experience, I see a series of breakthroughs.
Lip surgery with Dr. Simon McGrail.
A phone conversation with Dr. Richard Cox.
A beer with Greg Jones.
A lesson with Alan Siebert.
The pattern seems to be: long periods of very slow growth (or no growth), then a breakthrough, and then massive improvement in a few short weeks. Rinse and repeat.
This kind of progress isn’t unique to music. In fact, it seems like most areas of life work this way. In school, we have “a-ha” moments where everything clicks; at work we have the promotion that comes from nowhere. Time seems to bring these surges of progress every now and again, and it doesn’t always seem like the boring, daily work is doing much.
The stonecutter hammers away for a long time with no sign of progress, but it’s the hammering, not the passage of time, that makes the breakthrough happen. When we know something is going to take a lot of work over a long period of time, it’s hard to keep at it every day. Tempting instead to ease up, to lean on the sledgehammer and wait for time to pass, for the stone to split on its own.
Breakthroughs happen, but we have to work them into existence. If all we do is wait, we’re likely to be waiting forever.