My soccer playing days are behind me, but I still enjoy watching the game, especially the World Cup Finals. I’ve been able to watch most of the first round games through the magic of DVR, and I couldn’t help but start thinking about what musicians could learn from these world class athletes. I don’t want to belabor the parallels between music and sports, but there certainly are some interesting things to consider.
1. There is brilliance in simplicity. Some of the most beautiful plays I’ve seen so far in this tournament have been incredibly simple, just boiling down to total communication between two players. Likewise, a musical phrase doesn’t have to be complicated; it’s about communication between the player(s) and the audience.
2. It’s not always about physical strength. Sure, power and endurance are essential to the game, but so are finesse and grace. Watch some of the world’s great players – Messi, Kaka, Rooney – if they tried to muscle their way through every time, they’d get clobbered by defenders. Instead, they seem to magically weave their way past other players without wasting valuable energy. The next time you’re faced with a difficult passage, fight the natural urge to force your way through it and try instead to find the most efficient, graceful way to negotiate it.
3. Talent is great, but so is hard work. There are plenty of teams bursting with talent, but that talent doesn’t always keep them from getting bested by outfits with more drive and determination. There have already been some shocking upsets in the first round of the tournament, and there are bound to be more. In the music world there will always be players who are more talented, but in the end it is our work ethic and determination that make the difference.
4. Professionals recover from their mistakes. The 2010 World Cup has not been kind to goalkeepers thus far, the most infamous incident being Robert Green’s grave error for England resulting in a goal for the U.S. But you know what, Green made some incredible saves after that goal. At a time when it would have been easy to dwell on that mistake, he managed to keep his concentration and not give up any more goals. Usually our mistakes as horn players don’t happen on the world stage, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t embarrassed by them all the same. What counts, though, is our ability to regain our poise after any “blips” and continue on with the performance.
5. Experience matters. How else do you think those players in their mid thirties are able to compete at the same level as the players in their twenties? The older players may be outmatched in terms of speed and reflexes, but their superior experience enables them to read situations and respond accordingly. As brass players age, we may lose some of our physical power and lung capacity, but experience and understanding outweigh those losses.
6. Pace yourself. I’m always amazed at how the best teams often seem to find that extra bit of energy at the end of a game to score a winning goal. Yes, a lot of it is because they are in incredible shape, but a lot of it I imagine is because they paced themselves and saved a bit extra for the final ten minutes of the match. We need to be in great shape before a big concert or recital, but we also need to play intelligently during the performance so that we have enough left to finish strongly.
7. There’s more than one way of getting the job done. I love watching the different national styles of play in the World Cup – the flair of the Brazilians, the precision of the Germans, the tenacity of the Americans. But what really matters in the end is putting the ball in the back of the other team’s goal and preventing them from putting the ball in the back of yours, and there is incredible diversity in the way teams try to achieve that. What it comes down to is doing the best you can with what you have, and recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses. As horn players we often run into problems when we try to play exactly the same way someone else does, rather than capitalizing on our individual strengths and finding our own voice.