Two decades ago, cellist Yo Yo Ma embarked on a new musical journey, forming his Silk Road Ensemble. It’s a multicultural artistic collaboration between musicians from all over the world. They have made recordings, earned a Grammy nomination, commissioned diverse new musical works, created collaborations with students and teachers, and so much more. Silkroad boldly states its mission:
SILKROAD CREATES MUSIC
THAT ENGAGES DIFFERENCE,
SPARKING RADICAL CULTURAL
AND PASSION-DRIVEN LEARNING
TO BUILD A MORE HOPEFUL WORLD.
For those of us who experience music as a powerful emotional force, Silkroad’s mission resonates as much as the ensemble’s performances inspire and entertain.
In case you missed it, there was a terrific documentary made about the Silk Road project: THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at some of the individual musicians, framed in the context of their personal backgrounds and world events. The documentary reminds us that, despite some outward differences, we humans have much more in common with one another than we sometimes acknowledge, and there is big payoff in learning more about our commonality. THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS is joyful, touching, and a powerful example of the transcending power of collaboration. I highly recommend it!
Some of the things I’m most grateful for are things I did not plan for and could not have imagined for myself. For example, as a young musician, I hoped/dreamed/planned to be a full time flutist performing in a significant professional orchestra. Yet, along the way, I stumbled into radio and fell in love with the medium. It changed my perspective and my life for the better in ways too numerous to list. In hindsight, I even question whether I would have been truly happy as a full time orchestral musician, and I deeply appreciate the many “happy accidents” that steered me on such a satisfying path as a broadcaster AND professional musician.
Most of us have had path diversions of some kind, and they are not always “happy” either, or at least they don’t seem so at first. Years ago I interviewed the remarkable pianist Leon Fleisher. He was a child prodigy who grew into an astounding rising young concert pianist, when he lost the use of his right hand due to focal dystonia. As a result, he had to completely rethink his career and forge a new path. He focused on performing the left hand piano repertory and becoming a conductor and esteemed teacher and mentor. He has an extraordinary life and career, and I asked Mr. Fleisher if, in hindsight, he wished he could have done it differently. His telling answer was: no! He embraces the remarkable result of that initially painful change in his plans, hopes and dreams.
I recently spoke with a young musician friend who is at a crossroads right now in his professional and personal life. He is a talented American singer who is enjoying success abroad, albeit not in the quality and quantity he hoped for, nor on the timetable he expected. Like many of us, he internalized the message that if one follows a certain script — “Do A, B and C … and you will achieve X, Y and Z.” — one will achieve the prize. Now he is staring at the reality that things don’t always go according to plan, and don’t necessarily bring the happiness and satisfaction one expected, and he is struggling with those assumptions he made and what to do next.
My advice to him was to be open to opportunities, take some chances, keep doing his homework about his options, think broadly about his many skills and experiences, and eventually … take a leap! I reassured him that many successful people arrive at their success through circuitous paths that were not what they planned or imagined. In fact, I’d guess that is true to some extent for most successful and satisfied people.
What’s your story? Did you have some “happy accidents” that set you on a different path than you’d planned for yourself? How did it work out for you? What pearls of wisdom would you share with a young friend at such a crossroads?
What will you do to make yourself happy today?
It’s a question I sometimes ask people, an extension of a question I’ve made a habit to ask myself each day.
Sunday Baroque listeners frequently say the music on the program makes them happy and provides mental and emotional nourishment. Recently a listener told me he likes Sunday Baroque, in part, because he can hear the smile in my voice. What a heartwarming compliment! The smile in my voice is my authentic self, because I love my work and I love connecting with listeners. I am also keenly aware and appreciative that I’m naturally hardwired to be a happy and optimistic person. Producing a music program for people who enjoy it gives me great joy and satisfaction, and I nurture my natural inclination to be positive with other activities and personal connections that support and enhance my happiness.
Most of these are the “small picture” things … get some exercise, chat with a friend, listen to music, play my flute, read a good book, play with the cat, try a new recipe, plan or complete a project, watch a silly movie or video that makes me laugh or provides food for thought. These are simple tasks and simple pleasures, and they are things that contribute incrementally to giving me happiness each day and over time. They provide order — and disorder! — that is pleasing and gratifying. They also give me a sense of satisfaction, as well as a sense of some control over my fate. When I look back over days, weeks and months, I see evidence that I can steer the course of some things that are most important to me and I need not settle for having regrets.
There are plenty of studies demonstrating that optimism is good for one’s health. Even people who are not necessarily hardwired for optimism can tweak some of their behaviors and change their internal narratives to see things through a more optimistic lens.
What about you? Is your glass half full or half empty? What do YOU do to make yourself happy?