“The master
rarely shows himself but whenever she does she demonstrates
a concentrated ease so different from the willful accumulation
of experience we have come to expect” David Whyte

The rewards of commitment to mastery are many: increased self-awareness, deepening roots in one’s craft, honing of skills, enjoyment of practice for its own sake, appreciation of plateaus and breakthroughs in our endeavors, access to humility and humor through a willingness to look foolish, and winning and losing with equal grace. It demands unconditional presence. It takes courage. One could say mastery has become counter cultural in our fast paced, time challenged society where we want immediate results.

Mastery is a journey which ebbs and flows, a process that sees difficulties become both easier and more pleasurable. The practice of it requires discipline over time – sometimes tedious, sometimes delightful – with an acceptance that the goal is elusive, if possible at all. The journey becomes an end to itself ultimately revealing more about ourselves than the craft we seek to master. This may be its most redeeming quality.

Masters captivate our attention; as the singer becomes the song, as the speaker is one with the audience; as the dancer blends with the music, and as the skier defies the physical laws of nature to win the competition. In the moment master’s make their craft “look easy” to the observer, belying the thousands of hours of practice, perfecting “mistakes’, incarnating the emotional frustrations and joys all of which elevated their mundane preparations to transcendent artistry. Commitment to mastery is the master’s natural state of being.

Masters’ transcend their craft: Winston Churchill, Amelia Earhart, Stein Erickson, Jean Claude Killy, Martin Luther King, The Beetles, Mother Theresa, Beverly Sills, Walter Cronkite, Meryl Streep, Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, David Ortiz, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mikaela Shiffrin. Their personae’s resonate with the global consciousness regardless of whether one personally engages in their area of expertise, even after their deaths.

Watching mastery is magical, as I observed in Irene Gubrud’s Voice Master Class held in conjunction with the 2017 Aspen Music Festival. Gubrud was coaching nationally acclaimed opera singers performing in the Music School operas, including Zhengyi Bai, tenor; John Chandler, mezzo-soprano, Malorie Casimire, soprano, and Ariana Sutltz, mezzo-soprano.

Each vocalist performed a solo from esteemed operas including L’elisir d’amore (1832) and Le Nozze di Figaro (1786). It was hard to perceive from their performances what they could improve. Yet within moments, Irene identified the most important quality each could grow to connect to the audience even more deeply. A subtle suggestion had an exponential effect, vitalizing the artists, their music and the audience.

Gubrud’s acumen reflects her own coaching mastery. First of all she listened with her whole being. Her warm eyes didn’t waver from the performers as she sat quietly, occasionally leaning forward, humor and compassion occasionally flickering across her face in response to the artist’s interpretation of the song. Before coaching the vocalists, who were imperceptibly nervous in spite of their expertise, Gubrud engaged their souls with a comment that acknowledged they were totally accepted as they were. From there she identified the tweak which would enhance their music the most. The skill refinements ranged from where the artists’ eyes were focused, to the placement of their tongues in their mouths and hold of their jaws, to muscular management of the breath emanating from their lungs and diaphragms, to where they were balanced on their feet. As the singers tried the coaching cues, their own mastery expanded, as they could incorporate a technical shift without disrupting what they already do so well.

Gubrud, a master soprano herself, ambulated with the assistance of metal walking canes due to a life changing injury from a car wreck at the peak of her young career. The canes soon became invisible as she unabashedly walked over to the musician, physically directing them how to stand and expand their rib cage, molding them like a sculptor massaging a great animated statue.

Revealed by Gubrud’s coaching of voice was her unspoken message that mastery is about living life. As the best singers can still be coached to even greater excellence, so can the even the best of skiers.

Continue your journey towards mastery by working with me to help you improve your process both on and off the slopes. Enjoy the excellence AspenSnowmass has to offer, and be the master of your life.

Again, in David Whyte’s words:

“In this light we hunger for maturity, see it not as stasis
but a form of love.  We want the stillness and confidence
of age, the space between self and all the objects of the world
honoured and defined, the possibility that everything
left alone can ripen of its own accord,
all passionate transformations arranged only
through innocent meetings.”

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