Thursday, September 1, 2016

To impress or to inspire?

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PJ Hirabayashi said, "Don't play to impress, play to inspire."  While a good piece of advice, it can be difficult to define what makes them different from each other.  

Trying to impress the audience is a very short-term goal.  I can and have been impressed with different things, in taiko and karate and other arts I've never studied.  But that feeling sometimes goes away by the time I'm in the car for the drive home.  There might have been a few cool moments, but they don't necessarily stick.  Being inspired, on the other hand, can last days, weeks, even years.  It might come from a small thing that's not meant to stand out, but resonates with you for a long time.

A lot of it comes from the person's intention in how they both approach and play the drums.  If the intent is to impress, to make people go "wow, that's cool!", then that's fine, but a very surface-level goal.  And often there's no telling if it worked or not, so there's no way to know if you succeeded or not.  It's easy to think "yeah, I was impressive", but that can easily lead down the road of self-delusion.  If, however, a person's intent is to represent themselves to the best of their ability, then success is decided by that person, not the audience.  And as with impressing, while there's no way to tell if it worked or not, it comes from a much more genuine place.

Another way I view the differences comes from my experience in taiko.  I've seen some people play the same solo in the same song for years.  I'm not going to be impressed after such familiarity; the "wow" factor is gone after so much exposure.  But I can still be inspired by it!  The way someone moves, or how they "sell it" to the audience, or the way the phrasing builds until the climax, whatever it might be, those are the kinds of things that can still inspire me to be better.

I won't go as far as to say wanting to impress people is a bad thing, or that I've never had that intention myself.  But it's a goal with limited pay-off, like giving a candy bar to a hungry audience.  It's enjoyed in the moment, but too many of them and the audience doesn't want any more and they're probably not feeling well.  Ok, maybe that last bit doesn't apply, but y'all get my point.

Impression can have impact, but inspiration can effect change.  Which would you rather impart to an audience?

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