how studying music prepares us to run life’s marathons
A few years ago, I ran my first 5K race. I’ve been active my entire life, but running for the sake of running was never my thing. I lacked the stamina to get much more than a block or two from my house before side cramps and excruciating boredom would kick in. Nevertheless, I trained, prepared, and improved my stamina to the point that I could complete the 5K…barely. That was the first and last time I ran a race.
I think about stamina a lot these days. It seems that the term once reserved for the athletic arena is now a buzz word in education. Stamina is this fantastic combination of grit. patience, and sticktoitiveness that, when combined with a little bit of desire, can help you achieve things you never thought possible.
Stamina has been elevated to a critical learning skill that’s taught in school today. My elementary-age kids are always working on their “reading stamina” in class. They practice it every day with contests to see how long everyone in the class can immerse themselves in a book without interruption. They work on comprehension strategies so their minds don’t wander. They even have DEAR time during the day where they Drop Everything And Read.
It’s interesting to consider why stamina has become such a valued skill. Maybe it is because our culture has become so accustomed to instant gratification that our stamina is rarely tested. Maybe it’s because ubiquitous screen time has zapped our attention spans. Maybe it’s because educational research in recent years has pinpointed the grit and determination needed to work through failure as key components in a student’s prospects for long-term success. Whatever the reason or combination of factors, stamina is finally getting its due.
For musicians, none of this is ground-breaking news. On the stamina spectrum, studying music is on the far edge of the scale, somewhere between running extreme marathons and building the Taj Mahal. Stamina is vital to our training from the beginning. Learning to play the harp provides little instant gratification and lots of frustration. There is no button you can click or YouTube video you can watch that can substitute for doing the work it takes to achieve mastery of this instrument. The progress you make is slow and not always linear, but the payoff is worth it, as pretty much every musician will attest—including this issue’s cover interview subject, Corrina Hewat.
My ears perked up during my conversation with Hewat when I asked her what skills she thought were most important to her career as a harpist. After winding her way through her educational background, she settled something she learned from her teacher, Máire Ní Chathasaigh. “Those lessons with her were the most valuable for me—teaching me stamina in my practicing, the perseverance to see the end point and know that I was going to make it no matter how hard it is in the moment, there is a point to it all. You just need to push through that resistance barrier.”
Hewat goes on to point out that, though we learn stamina in the context of music, it really is a life skill. Musicians are stamina superstars, and we put this skill to work for us in aspects of our lives unrelated to music. That stamina you have built up over the years painstakingly learning each new piece of music, developing the focus to execute your part in an hour-long symphony, and crafting your individual musical style has payoffs far beyond the harp. But I’ll be honest, even though I know music has given me the stamina to go beyond five kilometers, I’m still going to leave my running shoes in the closet. •
Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.