The Thin Veneer of Responsibility

Today I want to talk about how to give the semblance of responsibility and professionalism in whatever it is you do.

For a time, I collected books containing warmups and exercises for brass instruments.  Not just the tuba, but all brass instruments.  I used to love finding new techniques and practice methods that I could use in my daily practice.

When I was living in Los Angeles playing with the Hip Hop Orchestra, Dakah, I would spend my days going to the downtown LA public library, going through the tuba, trombone, and horn music books (sorry, for some reason I couldn’t find any trumpet ones I liked).  While I found plenty to keep me occupied, perhaps the best resource was back at the apartment I was sharing.  I lived with a trombone player named Dan who had studied at the University of Northern Colorado with Buddy Baker, and he had a copy of his typed and hand-written method book.  It was filled with great technical tools that were easily applicable to the tuba.  The philosophy behind it was even better, though.  In particular, a pie chart like the one below.

What this is saying is that the number one skill needed to be a professional musician is not your technique, musicality, or pedagogical skills.  While all of those are factors, the number one skill is TCB: Taking care of business.

TCB Pie Chart

From Buddy Baker’s trombone method

Taking care of business means:

  • Arriving on time to rehearsals and performances.
  • Bringing any necessary tools of the trade whenever necessary, including but not limited to: your instrument, a stand, a pencil, your music, your mutes, your best game.
  • Acting a in a professional manner to the bandleader, bandmates, and the audience.
  • Communicating with everybody involved to make sure you’re on the same page.
  • Understanding that the onus of these responsibilities falls upon you.

Over time, I have realized how absolutely true this chart is.  These are the factors that determine whether you get hired again or not, and they’re really not that hard.  If you have the discipline to spend hours in a practice room with just you and your instrument, making sure not to cancel on someone an hour before the show is a piece of cake!  And no one cares about the traffic you hit.  Just get there on time.

The true revelation comes, though, when you realize that this chart is as much about music as it is any discipline or life situation.  Just replace “technique” with “skills” and “musicality” with “creativity”.  Work in an office?  Do what you need to on time, be someone that others can depend on, and treat everyone with respect.  Freelance designer? Communicate with your client, meet your goals, and don’t be condescending.  Want to be a good friend?  Be there for your friends, do what you say you’re going to do, and empathize empathize empathize.

Anyone can use these tools to be more successful in any endeavor, or at least to fool someone into thinking you’re responsible.  But as Kurt Vonnegut said, we are what we pretend to be.  It doesn’t really matter whether deep down you buy into “taking care of business”, or you’re just donning the thin veneer of responsibility.  As long as the job gets done, you can worry about the ethical intricacies on your own time.


7 thoughts on “The Thin Veneer of Responsibility

  1. Bryce Moore says:

    Dang it. I left a really good response to this, and WordPress ate it. Sigh. Just pretend that you read it, and you were impressed by how much I agreed with you and how insightful I can be.

    • neonandshy says:

      I posted a long comment about how impressed I was by how much you agreed with me, and how insightful you can be. But WordPress ate it. So pretend to be gratified.

  2. kthrncnnr says:

    I hear what you are talking about as “integrity”. When I am around people with integrity I feel comfortable and respected. I want to have more integrity but but but. . .I have a lot of buts. I know they are total bullshit but how to address them anyway?

  3. AN says:

    Early this morning while on my way to work I saw a turtle in the middle of the road. Naturally I went around the toothless reptile. I then paused and backed up, being careful not to squash the bony shelled creature. Although I knew it would make me late for work I gingerly left the comfort of my vehicle (emergency flashers on in the middle of the road) and moved the turtle to the side of the road. This was and unexpected opportunity for me to measure the value of a living creature against my perfect attendance record for surely the turtle would have been run over and killed. We must all decide for ourselves when humanity trumps the pie chart and bear the consequences.

    • neonandshy says:

      I was going to write a long comment about reductio ad absurdum. It will probably just be easier to make a blanket announcement that if you are not true to your word due to a turtle-related incident, I hereby retract this post. I hope this is not setting a dangerous precedent.

  4. MN says:

    The first thought I had was INTEGRITY!!! but since some other brilliant mind deduced this I’ll agree completely and also add that it comes down to being able and allowing yourself to step back from all of life’s bombarding “Should have, could haves” and look honestly into who you are and what you have to offer to mankind in general and yourself specifically. Being open minded about what makes it all work is amazingly effective. The whole idea also reeks of “damn good work ethic” and a
    sense of responsibility to yourself and others.

  5. […] went into detail about this in one of my first posts, so I won’t do it too much more here.  But err on the side of early, even if it’s way […]

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