So you are at music college, sitting in a class watching some of your colleagues perform for a visiting professor or something, and suddenly Sam gets up to play. You were already tense and irritated when you saw his name on the list, and now you will have to listen to him, again! It’s always Sam this, Sam that, everyone loves Sam. All this talent and ability in the hands of someone else can only mean one thing: your very identity is in danger of being crushed, much like the soul of Gollum. If you aren’t careful, Sam will completely overwhelm your own talent and personality, and if that happens you will no longer have a reason to exist at all. You must protect yourself using whatever techniques you can, especially the technique of criticising Sam all the time.
Here’s a few tips on how you can do that:
Find an aspect of his technique to criticise, like his arpeggios
Very few people are the best in the world at arpeggios, and you know that’s especially true of Sam. So the next time someone says, “wasn’t his performance great” you can earnestly say “yes, but it’s such a shame about his arpeggios, you know.” If you play this card right, you can undermine all of Sam’s other achievements and make his musical abilities seem like some sort of fraud designed to disguise his embarrassing limitations with arpeggios.
Remember, if a musician has a small technical foible, it proves that everything they do is corrupt and worthless. (Please note, “musicians” in this case refers to other people, not you. That is very important.)
Imply that you could do it better
One of the most important things you need to be able to do as a musician is express your identity at all times, and the best way to do that is make confident assertions that imply things about your musical ability. After all, it doesn’t matter what sort of musician you are, it matters what sort of musician it seems like you are.
For example, if your friends are having a chat about how difficult it is to memorise music, tell a story which involves you inadvertently memorising a very difficult modern piece while you were actually trying to do something else, as if even you were surprised by your extraordinary mastery. Since it isn’t the main subject of the story, people can’t accuse you of bragging, but they can leave feeling insecure about how good at memorising you must be. This is the first step towards having an identity.
Repeat the catty, scornful things your teacher says about Sam
If you have the sort of teacher who likes to gossip about other teachers and their students, and you almost certainly do, they will probably have said something slightly disparaging about Sam’s arpeggios at some point recently, probably every time he ever comes up in conversation. They will probably say things like “I want to like his playing but one day he walked past me in the hall and didn’t say hello” or “sure he is good, but it’s a very mainstream sort of good” or “I guess you could say he has good arpeggios, if you like thumbs.” Repeating these comments as if they were your own can be a really great way of expressing your identity, especially if that identity is “I’m just as good as Sam, if not better.”
It doesn’t even matter if the comments are true; little nuggets of authority mixed with bitter disdain can really go a long way, much like slices of lembas, Elvish waybread from Middle Earth. Arranged into thin cake-like shapes, even a small bite of this wondrous other-worldly loaf can give you more long-lasting sustenance than almost anything else, especially achievements. Try clinging to these comforting scraps of tasty high-handed dismissiveness as if your identity depends on them, because if you never manage to play better than Sam, it probably does.
Don’t go to any concerts, especially Sam’s
Sometimes the hardest way to stay fully convinced of your own unique identity is to go to concerts where you will have to watch other musicians perform excellently. The whole point is that you are trying to stop your identity from being crushed, not help the process along, so deliberately choosing to listen to musicians who aren’t you is really just a risk. Better avoid it altogether.
If people ask you about it, make sure you can offer some lofty excuse which makes you seem artistic, like “why would I need to see a concert when I read the score with my mind” or “I don’t want my interpretations to be sullied by the influence of others” or “if I leave the Shire I will be chased by the Nazgûl”. Again, it’s all about what you imply, not what you do.
Make your hopes and dreams conditional on such and such a thing happening first
What makes Sam so good, anyway? Could it be that he has practised well for several hours a day over a long period of time? Probably.
But remember, you hope and dream to be a great musician, not become one; this is why it is more important to imagine realising that dream than it is to work on making it a reality. If you were to do that, you would have to sit there in a practice room, struggling to overcome all of your imperfections for hours and hours a day, months and years on end. That’s not an identity, that’s labour! All you really want is to get approval and make people think you are incredibly talented, so if you can just convince everyone that’s true in some other way, why put in all those hours?
The best way of sustaining this dream is to delay it until after some other thing has happened first. This could be anything: finishing your degree, winning a competition, throwing the Ring of Power into the molten fires of Mount Doom, anything that allows you to think of your career as something that starts at some later point but definitely not now. I can assure you, it is so much easier to think about everything you want to do in life if you think about it happening at some unspecified point in the future, where you won’t have to worry about Sam.
This is why criticising Sam’s arpeggios is so useful: it shows how unimportant his playing is compared to the way you might play one day, the way you imagine. That’s what matters most.
And there you have it: how to express your identity by criticising Sam’s arpeggios. Because remember, in the game of life, there is no difference between Sam failing and you succeeding.