I’ve only recently come to terms with the meaning of my role as a model for young composers, and for younger people in general. It’s inevitable: whether I like it or not, and whether the young people around me like it or not, they take cues from my words and behavior that can have lasting impacts on their lives. Some of these cues are imitative – emulating the way I approach certain challenges, for example – and some of them are rejections, as in, “I hate the way Dillon does x, so I vow never to do x.”
When I was a young teacher, I think I must have been a terrible role model in almost every way. There were several reasons for this:
- I was a brash fellow, with an enormous ego and little concern for the consequences of my actions.
- I didn’t want people to model themselves on me, because that would detract from my sense of my own uniqueness.
- I didn’t realize the inevitability of learning from role models, because I thought I had rejected the models of my youth in my quest for originality.
I like to think I’ve learned to manage my ego more effectively since then – yet another thing that took me a while to figure out.
One of the things I’d love to model for my students is a taste for collective ambition. What do I mean by collective ambition? Here’s how I think of it.
Ambition, of course, is aiming high. When you aim high, sometimes you hit high and sometimes you fall short. I can accept falling short of high aspirations – at least you aimed high. If you aim low, though, you are guaranteed to hit low.
One of the la Rochefoucaulds wrote “It is not enough for me to succeed, a friend must fail.” I used to love the gentle cynicism of this quote. Certainly, when you measure your accomplishments against those of your peers, it helps if their work totally flops.
But now I’m finding this kind of ambition unsatisfying. If you truly want to accomplish on the highest level, then you do whatever you can to help those around you to excel, because that raises the bar even higher for you. And that’s what I mean by collective ambition: having the highest aspirations for everyone – pushing yourself to greater achievement through others.
Not sure if my students will pick that up from me, or if they will only pick up the silly foibles I try to hide. But I’ll aim high, and hope for the best.