Celine walked up on stage as his brother Pepe was playing the guitar. “Notice how relaxed his shoulder is, but if he tenses it, his sound becomes thin.” Pepe tensed his shoulder and the tones coming from his guitar became tinny and shrill. “Try it,” Celine urged 16-year old Joseph.
This master class is led by the famous Romeros—the first family of classical guitar. I was skeptical when my husband first urged me to attend these classes where young players perform in front of world-renowned guitarists who critique and provide feedback. I am not a guitarist. But I soon realized there are always lessons to learn from masterful teachers—no matter what they are teaching.
As I type, I am aware of the tenseness in my shoulders that not only leads to physical pain, but must also be stifling my creativity. I relax, remembering when Joseph relaxed, how his notes transformed into round, full, and fluid sounds. I wasn’t a student in this class, but I learned a valuable lesson nonetheless.
Next up is 15-year old Chase. He plays an incredibly complex Bach Prelude. The boy has a gift, it is obvious. The trick for Pepe is to encourage Chase to notice the music’s structure without overly “thinking” about it. How can you be structured without being in your head, and still stay in the heart of the music? “When I was a boy in Spain,” Pepe recounts, “I was listening to my father and brothers play their guitars, and I would go into the closet—shut everything out—and play in the dark. Now it’s hard to find a closet big enough for both me and my guitar, so at least 3 times a week, I practice with my eyes closed.”
Chase closes his eyes and takes his time, imagining the piece in his mind while 100 people watch and wait. When Chase finally begins playing, the audience gasps at the beauty of what they are hearing. Pepe’s lesson reminded me of how, with a few moments of mindfulness, we can eliminate judgment and allow ourselves the freedom of pure expression.
Over the years, I have sat in many master guitar classes, and each time I come away with life lessons to implement. I urge you to participate in a class—the subject doesn’t matter. I urge you to learn lessons taught by a master teacher. Check out local colleges—or even high schools. Ask students who their favorite teachers are, not because they are easy graders, but because they remind them of how much they love learning.
“Do you know what the composer was trying to do with this piece?” Pepe asks Joseph. “He was recreating a rain storm on the Spanish Plains. I know because he told me this himself when I was about the same age as you are today.” A master teacher not only knows their subject deeply and thoroughly but they also have such passion for it that they want to share what they know with others. They are optimally motivated to teach. And, through their values and sense of purpose, they help us fulfill our psychological need for competence—our desire to grow and learn every day. They also help us satisfy two other basic needs required for us to thrive and flourish: autonomy and relatedness. They illuminate choices without demanding which direction we go; they share their knowledge and ignite a deeper sense of meaning in the moment.
I started out by asking, “What can you learn from taking a master class in guitar if you don’t play the guitar?” A better question might be, “What life lessons can you learn from a master teacher—no matter what the subject?”
This master class ends with a young man stepping up to replace a student who has fallen sick. The young man plays his piece, receives his critique from these legendary classical guitarists, then replays his piece. The quality of his playing is demonstratively better. But, Pepe’s final feedback is special and he addresses all of us in the room. “This is an important life lesson. Many of the greatest artists in the world did what this young man just did. When someone got sick, they filled in on short notice. When the moment came, they were ready. What this young man reminds of is this: Be ready even if you don’t have something to be ready for.”
We laugh, and I renewed my dedication to being more prepared for whatever life opportunities come my way. I am open to learning and growing from the master teachers—whoever they are and whatever subject they teach.