Our Life in the Arts

Questions, reality, and musings on a life of joy and wonder

Vol. 2, No. 6

June 10, 2022

What Will it Take?

By Rich Holly

Here’s one thing I used to encounter time and time again when I was a full-time percussion professor: students being overwhelmed by the length or difficulty level (often the number of pages or how many notes were on each page) of a piece of music I was assigning them to learn. They could hardly stop themselves from seeing and thinking about the entirety of the work load ahead of them, rather than asking themselves “What is it I can do to get started?”

Most commonly, I encouraged students to start with very small, attainable goals. Learn one measure. If it’s a difficult measure, learn one beat’s worth of notes. And when you’re satisfied with how you achieved that small goal, reward yourself. Say something nice and supportive to yourself, leave the practice room to take a 30-second walk or get a drink of water, something along those lines. The key to all this is to practice (and get to know yourself regarding) how to determine what those small, attainable goals are. The more you practice doing this kind of self-assessment, the better and quicker you get at doing so.

This approach – taking small steps, reaching small, attainable goals – has been a hallmark of achieving greatness for centuries upon centuries. If you search online, you’ll find no shortage of people and webpages discussing the incredibly high value of taking small steps.

To get you started, here’s one short video on the subject:

Among the several things I have going on in my life, I am a member of the Board of Directors for Music Therapy of the Rockies, an organization that provides song-writing (make that “life-changing” song writing) retreats for people who have suffered and continue to suffer from trauma. I attended a military veterans’ retreat a few weeks ago – since joining the board one year ago, this was the first time that I was able to attend a retreat. These veterans have two pertinent things in common: they all suffer from PTSD, and they all convinced themselves to take one step by becoming a participant in this retreat. Over the course of two-and-a-half days I witnessed an amazing transformation – vital, even – of each and every veteran in attendance, as they were calmly and professionally guided to continue taking small steps toward owning their trauma, talking about their trauma, and discovering how the beauty of writing and performing a song about their trauma can help alleviate the suffering they experience from their trauma. I came away a new person, as I know these veterans did as well.

Rich at the recent music therapy retreat, including singer/songwriters Amy Grant, Chris Nole, Mark Elliott and others, and led by singer/songwriter Mack Bailey

I’m using music to describe my experience with the (extremely high) value of taking small steps, one at a time, because that’s my primary arts’ discipline. The same approach will be successful no matter what your artform – or how you choose to use it – happens to be.

What are some goals you have for yourself? What are some goals you have for how the arts will impact humankind? My door is always open (well, I look at email frequently!) if anyone would like my assistance in determining how to take their small steps.

What will it take for you to:

…read through that stack of arts-related journals sitting across the room?

…create a website promoting yourself?

…make time to see what others in your artistic realm are doing?

…experiment with a new style or media that takes you out of your comfort zone?

What will it take for the arts to:

…never again be cut from a K-12 curriculum?

…increase their presence in your hometown?

…help reduce the number of violent crimes?

…help reduce hate and bias?

The answer to all of these (and most other) questions is the same: Small steps. One…right…after…another.

Rich Holly serves Arts NC State and the NC State University community as the Executive Director for the Arts.

All posts in the “Our Life in the Arts” series are available here.