It's stuck in my head for a few reasons. On one hand, I have visited this notion before. But, I also wonder: what kind of professions are out there that can be said to be truly mastered at some point? Are there really any?
A favorite anecdote of mine is from Peter Boonshaft, who tells this story often when speaking, and also includes it as a preface to his book "Teaching Music With Purpose". He describes being a freshman in college at the opening convocation of his music school. He tells how he expected a band, orchestra or choir to open the ceremony. That would seem like a likely start for a year at a music school. However, instead he was surprised to see an old man hobble onto the stage "somewhere between 90 and 160 years of age. A little, unassuming old man who would become one of my greatest teachers."
The old man spoke then to the assembled freshman: "When I was twenty-one I knew everything. When I was thirty-one, I discovered I could learn a bit more about one or two things. When I was forty-one I realized there were a few things I didn't know." He went on like this for a while and ending by saying, "At seventy-one, I conceded there was more I didn't know than I did know. And now I stand here before you, at the age of eighty-one, confident that I don't know anything."
You might laugh. It's funny. It's also true. They say wisdom comes with age and if that's the case then wisdom must reveal what our intelligence lacks. What's more is that I feel that it's okay to not know everything. I don't mind telling a student that I don't know the answer to something. Frankly, it's silly to assume that I should.
I also believe it's okay to not do everything perfectly. I was playing a piano piece for a student the other day and I made a mistake. He was a sixth-grader and was eager to point it out to me. I think he was surprised when I agreed with him. Of all things, musicians should understand their imperfections. Of course, the notion that music should be perfect is a product of the over-consumption of recorded music... I'll save my rantings on that subject for another day. :-)
PS. The Mesa City Band has a big concert at the Mesa Arts Center next Wednesday night. It's a big deal for the group, for it's the first time we've been in that facility since it was built. It's at the Piper Auditorium at the MAC from 7-8:30, Wed. March 9th.