Last Friday was the inaugural Make Music Philly event in which different groups banded together with different venues to create a solid day of performances by local musicians throughout the city. Not wanting to be left out, I joined forces with my friend Samantha to form an impromptu band named Dethhed. I play tuba and accordion, she plays ukulele and harp. We have a few original songs that each of us has written as well as a collection of songs we sing together.
After running into some difficulty finding a venue, we opted to go to a park in Center City and just set up and play. While this seems pretty straightforward and easy, we both had some anxieties. We’re both people who have a respect for the rules, and we didn’t want to be breaking any laws. Samantha was concerned that police might come and ask us to leave. I was concerned that people in the park would find us a nuisance. We discussed this on Friday on the way there and came to the conclusion that we would see what happens. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with what we were doing, but if someone asked us to stop, we’d try to be respectful to their wishes (especially if they were an authority figure).
As it turned out, the performance was very well-received. The police did not ask us to vacate, and the audience was very receptive and engaged. We played for about 45 minutes while onlookers watched, filmed, and danced. We were both relieved to find our fears were unrealized and encouraged to try new ways of performing in the future.
While we were driving to the park and discussing our anxieties, I apologetically shared an overly cheery maxim: Worrying is a waste of imagination. We had both imagined and fleshed-out a scenario as to why we couldn’t or shouldn’t play; I might add that we both have exceptional imaginations. The whole situation could have easily turned into an excuse (valid or not) why we stayed home instead. Instead, we recognized the potential negative consequences, weighed them against the potential positive outcomes, and tempered them with our own sense of integrity. The net result was a risk that we felt comfortable making.
Let me talk about that “tempered with a sense of integrity” part, as it has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. My natural inclination when I need to ask something of someone is to put as little burden on them as possible. I am slowly beginning to feel more comfortable about making reasonable requests of people. Reasonable by whose standard? Well, just mine. I can keep this in check pretty well, as I have a pretty hard time lying to myself.
For example, a few weeks ago I was playing with a 4-piece band for a 4 hour show. I had played the same venue the night before with a 3-piece band for a 2 hour show. At that show each of the 3 performers was given 2 food/drink tickets. That’s 6 for those of you without an abacus. With the 4-piece band, each of the performers was given 3 food/drink tickets, for a total of 12. Avid fans of multiplication should realize that if the ratio is the same, we should have been given 16 tickets.
Asking for more was the last thing I wanted to do, but I felt like I had the facts (the math) on my side. If I were playing this solo, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but I was the bandleader and I wanted to make sure the people in my band were getting their fair share. The risk I was taking was the rejection I might have faced as well as becoming a perceived nuisance to the booker. I looked at the risks, looked at the benefits, and tempered it with my own integrity of what I thought was right. And so I asked. Had we been given 16 tickets, I would have had a hard time justifying asking for more, because I truthfully didn’t think we deserved more.
My point here is definitely not that taking risks yields positive results. Rather, when we’re honest with ourselves about the things that can go wrong, the things that can go right, and our justifications for our actions, we can make the most of the situations that present themselves to us. If we want to continue to develop, we sometimes need to take risks. There really isn’t any other way to grow as a person. We just need to keep our worrying imagination in check, keep our eyes open, and try to do what’s right.