Monday, December 29, 2008

10,000 hours

According to Malcolm Gladwell's new book, "Outliers", it takes an investment of about 10,000 hours to become truly expert in a domain, like a sport or a musical instrument. Research that suggests the key to developing expertise is thousands of hours of practice in which challenges are systematically tackled (see e.g., Ross, July 24, 2006, Sci Am). I find the arguments and examples pretty compelling, and I certainly feel that there is evidence for this hypothesis in my own life. The only specific skills I have invested 10,000 hours in are LISP programming and rock guitar, and I think that I have reached expert levels in both of those pursuits. The evidence is that have made a good living as an AI professional for the last 30 years, and I almost never play in a guitar store without someone asking me if I give lessons. (I don't code any more, but I still play guitar every day I'm at home.)

On the downside, this means my piano playing has 9,000 hours to go, and my bass playing has about 7,500 hours to go. I turn 60 years old today, so I don't expect to be truly proficient on these instruments for another 10 years, although if I retire at 65 I may be able to hurry things along. Meanwhile, my jazz guitar playing is only at about 5,000 hours, and my classical guitar playing languishes at about 2,500 hours. I get some transfer among these instruments and styles, but not enough to make up for lack of practice on the specifics. Meanwhile, my hands are not what they were, so I feel like I'm in a race against time. But I find learning and playing music so rewarding that I have never given a second thought to whether or not it is worthwhile. For some reason, just listening has never been enough for me, so I hope to continue studying for a good while yet.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Peace on Earth, World Voices concert

Last night, Sandy and I attended the POE concert by choral group World Voices at the Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. This annual event partners a first-class choir with other local ensembles, mostly drawn from local schools. This year featured the Ascension School Choir, the FAIR School Choir, the Minnesota Boychoir, Partners in Priase, Con Brio Choir, and the Robbinsdale All-District Elementary Choir.

Karle Erickson, artistic director of World Voices, led the evening's music from the podium, which included participation from the audience. The programme featured the very best Christmas music from around the world, including "Joy to the World", "Gloria", "Kling, Glockchen", "Hatikva", "Betelehemu", "Cantico di Frate Sole" and "This is my Father's World". The evening ended with all the choirs and the audience singing together on "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands".

I'm proud to be on the Board of Directors of World Voices, and I think of this event as being the highlight of our year. Great credit is due to our artistic partners in this event, including the Saint Anthony Sacred Dancers, the University of Minnesota Steel Drum Ensemble, and various accompanists on organ, brass and percussion. The children did a fabulous job and their presence made the evening both a musical success and a cause for hope that peace on earth might one day become a reality.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Piano lessons

My left hand still feels bad, but I am now studying jazz piano with Bryan Nichols at the MacPhail Center for Music. This is less stressful on my operated-on finger than guitar or bass, though more stressful otherwise, because my piano playing needs much more work. Luckily, Bryan is an awesome teacher, and we are digging into some great standards from the Real Book.