Idle Thoughts: What is Mastery?



I tend to have a mind that can go off occasionally on some odd tangents... I'm told that it can make for very irritating conversation by my wife as I make connection jumps that make perfect sense to me... but not to her. On the other hand, one of my children manages to follow and so do some of her siblings... and it is a point of contention amongst their family that some of them do make these jumps, whilst others are completely unable to follow!

Anyway, all of that is slightly off-topic... what I was writing about was a bit of a musing over the nature of mastery. If you have been following my blog, I have recently moved into a new place after relocating from one end of the planet to the other... and it means that I have been using the ute quite a bit... to cart away green waste to the tip, and to cart in furniture for the house. I've grown to be quite fond of the funny little workhorse car... it is crazily loud and completely hyper functional in design!

It also means that I've been tying all sorts of loads down with ropes... and my brother in law had taught me some pretty cool knots that could act as ratcheting knots that would hold and leverage a bit of extra strength for holding loads tight. It is something that is crazily useful to learn, but it does take a great degree of time and perseverance to be halfway decent at tying the knots! Plus, a touch of brain and muscle memory to do it... After tying down several loads, I still would forget how the ratcheting knot worked, and I ended up tying down some pretty dodgy loads! But they managed for the short trips that I had to make... and I always made sure not to drive too fast!

However, when our sea shipment arrived... I knew that I had a stash of ratcheting bands (with a metal ratchet) in there somewhere. Originally, I had bought them to help keep wardrobe doors and harpsichord lids closed whilst in transit... but in the end, the moving company just wrapped them all shut with plastic wrap, and so they weren't needed. They just got dumped in a box...

... of course, when I was busy learning how to tie down loads... my first thought was, gee... I wish I had those ratcheting bands with me. Sure, they are a bit of a cheap way out instead of learning a proper skill... but seeing as I currently suck at knots, and these loads weren't waiting for me to get better at it...

And so, I started using the ratcheting bands... I had a chat with my brother in law about it... and he thought it was definitely the smarter and easier way to do it, but he had a certain affinity for the ropes.

... and I do have to agree with him. I use the ratcheting bands as they are simple for me to use, and they do the job much more effectively than I could manage with the rope. However, as my brother in law pointed out, the ropes are MUCH more flexible in term of what they can do... you can tie multiple different types of knots for the job required, and you can even tie knots that distribute the load AROUND a weak section. All of these things are beyond a band and ratcheting mechanism!

So, this got me to thinking about what it is that defines mastery of a craft or a skill.... it is something that I think about quite a bit when I am performing music. I have many colleagues who are competent at their craft, but I wouldn't call them masters... whilst there are others who are clearly masters of their craft. It isn't that the "less mastered" people are worse, but you do notice the difference when you play with them...

... and I think it really has to do with something that was brought up with the ropes. Mastery is flexibility, the ability use and adapt a skill to any and every unexpected occasion. Sure, bands do the job... but they can't be adapted for ANY job!

In a similar way, a real master musician isn't limited by skill or ability, but is able to turn those "tools" to any situation and adapt and evolve on the fly in real time... they are not rigidly bound by technique, but are able to flexibly evolve the technique to suit the purpose.




Anyway... that was a little bit of a meander through my thoughts as I was sitting around in the ute... just before a concert!


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I am a Musician (Violinist/Violist) specialising in Early Music living in The Netherlands. I have a background in Mathematics and Physics due to an earlier tertiary level study... and so, I'm still quite interested in Science and Technology related stuff!

The Glamorous Life of a Musician!
The Glamorous Life of a Musician!

Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life! I'm a Violinist and doing what I love is often interestingly contrasted with the reality of getting to do what I love...

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