There Are No Wrong Notes

Life as it is, Mistakes

Before attending a Sunday performance at the Houston Symphony, I love taking my guests to have brunch first.  It gives a chance for conversation and avoids the last minute traffic rush.  There is a great jazz brunch a short walk from Jones Hall, and recently while dining with my step-mother before Handel’s Messiah, I noticed a sign I had never seen before.

In life, just like jazz, there are no wrong notes

I jotted this down in my notebook I carry as it had a profound impact on me. What if every mistake and error and screw up and all those things that eventually bring me wisdom were, in fact, part of a master’s performance that was my life?

I recently had a photoshoot with someone that expressed horror at my idea of trying something that might not work just to see if it could be done. Now, this is a person I respect and has more experience in the professional end of a photoshoot than I have, and I understand the importance of knowing one’s craft, but it seems there was something missing in such a philosophy.

I reserve the right to make mistakes. That is a fundamental premise of which i often must remind myself. For this is not my natural state. My nature is to try to avoid mistakes – the idea of making a fool of myself (when I am not trying to do so when entertaining) is frightening to me. So I have to remind myself that it is OK to make mistakes. The safer I try to stay by not making mistakes, the less I will grow and the less I can ever create with images, words or ideas.

Sax in the City

In this case, finding the sign suddenly after countless brunches at this restaurant was a very real help to me. I had just decided to change all my Christmas plans and to make a spur of the moment trip of thousands of miles by car with my son to see my daughter. In addition, I was feeling more stress and fear than usual in handling Christmas as a single father because of all of this. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says that the people most likely to procrastinate out of fear are the people with the imaginations to imagine all of the things that can go wrong – and I qualify in that regard. The amount of fear that i might make a mistake and ruin Christmas was a significant weight this year.

But here’s where the idea that making mistakes is ok – there are no wrong notes – helped me out. I was able to realize that I am the author of my own Christmas story, or if you prefer, the composer of my own melody. And so I promptly wrote myself a permission slip allowing me to get things wrong and that any outcome of my efforts to do right for the care of my children – and my own care as well – is acceptable and, in fact, a perfect outcome.

We had a great Christmas as a result. The kind that will be reflected on by myself and my children for years to come. And it all came from that idea that there are no wrong notes.

Or if you prefer to hear from a master, here’s a couple thoughts Miles Davis – the jazz trumpeter and composer – had to say on this idea of wrong notes:

“There are no wrong notes in jazz: only notes in the wrong places.”

“It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.”

1 Comment

One Response

  1. I like this philosophy very much indeed.

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