Sometimes our life force intensifies close to an important threshold. Staying steady while using this surge of energy is crucial. I recall such a moment in my life that changed everything.

A person who is my mentor leans over and whispers, “You know, improvisation is the ultimate in your art form.” I nod in agreement. Of course, I have never attempted improvisation in my life, being a classically trained musician where every note is respected on the score with no deviation whatsoever. Little do I know that with this simple nod, in the not-too-distant future, comes a waterfall of trepidation, experimentation, and rewiring of my most fundamental ways of relating to music.

The first time I try “it,” that is improvising in public, it is terrifying. And… I try it. A few notes deviate from the score. Quickly, I return to home base. That is enough. Next time, I deviate from the score a few seconds longer, adjusting to the degree of exposure I feel. And another time, I stretch the length out to as much as I can stand, and then return to home base but not as quickly as in previous attempts.

And so it goes for months, this practice, testing, discerning, until one day I play without any score. I cross the threshold. I play in direct contact with the audience. I play their field of response as I return the conversation with my reactions and musical comments.

Fear turns to exhilaration. And with that surge comes a wellspring of gratitude for my mentor who gently “dismissed” me from my classical study and opened the door to the next chapter of my musical life.

Now through my work and music, I have the privilege of witnessing moments like this with people from many backgrounds as they face fundamental thresholds in both their personal and professional lives.

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