Developing Understanding

Understanding is the bedrock of empathy. There’s no doubt that empathetic people are attractive to others – after all, we all long to feel connected and supported. However, before you can be empathetic, you have to understand. Empathy is the emotional manifestation of understanding.

Understanding - A Characteristic of Attractiveness

Understanding has a host of gifts to offer beyond just building empathy, of course. When you understand the circumstances surrounding the composition of a particular piece of music – who wrote it, when, and why – that context colors and improves your performance of the piece. Suddenly, the music is no longer just notes on a page, but a communication from one human being to another. Understanding is the baseline of connection.

Tolerance vs. Understanding

A dictionary definition of understanding is sympathetic awareness or tolerance, but perhaps a better definition would be sympathetic awareness beyond tolerance.

Tolerance has become quite the buzzword, and over time it’s become a bit corrupted. To tolerate something now implies that you are putting up with it, despite not liking it very much. There’s no curiosity there, simply a willful disregard of disgust.

Understanding on the other hand, requires curiosity. And curiosity often requires courage. No wonder people shy away from it. Asking why people believe or behave or create as they do opens you up to discovering answers that may make you uncomfortable.

The Courageousness of Living

If you want to develop understanding, appreciating courage is a great place to start. Everywhere you look, you see courage whether you recognize it as such or not. It takes courage to just show up for life. Following through, making a million small decisions a day, all of that requires courage. Life is not for the faint of heart.

Pursuing a life in classical music requires an additional level of courage. You’re constantly putting yourself out there, facing rejection, facing failure. And the musicians around you are doing the same thing. Everyday. You may not know exactly what is going on in someone else’s life, but there’s one thing you can understand – they made the decision to get out of bed this morning and get on with it, and that deserves some respect.

Understanding Your Role

Sympathetic awareness begins with understanding the big why. Why is that person doing what they are doing? Why are we here, performing this piece? Once you understand the purpose, you can determine what your role in the whole is. Are you the leader? The giver? The receiver?

Once you understand your part you can demonstrate that understanding to the people around you.

This is part of our series on the characteristics of attractive people. If you would like to hear the live discussion about this characteristic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.

How “Understanding” Makes You Irresistible

Understanding is one of those nebulous words – it can mean comprehension, sympathy, mastery, agreement. Before we begin to unpack how understanding can play a key role in making you attractive as a classical musician, we’ll have to agree on a definition.

How Understanding Makes You Irresistible

Before understanding came to have so many shades of meaning, it was simply an adjective that described, “having insight or good judgment.” Seems fitting for classical musicians to settle on this classical definition.

The Trees AND the Forest

At heart, the kind of understanding we’re talking about requires having a deep awareness and appreciation of any given situation – be that situation small and specific (a particular performance, for example) or wide and all-encompassing (your life, your career, your relationships). It is about recognizing your role in the whole, identifying what is, and what is not, within your control, and always keeping your eyes on the whys. It’s about tuning into the small details, without losing sight of the big picture.

Your Role in the Whole

Let’s look at some examples.

In an ensemble, you must not only comprehend your part, but you must understand how that part relates to the whole. Are you a soloist? If not, don’t play like one. If so, how does the solo contribute to the piece?

What about conductors? As a conductor, it is my job to try to draw the very best possible performance out of the musicians I work with.

That involves a lot more than understanding a particular piece (though that’s obviously crucial), it involves understanding human beings and the courage that it takes all of us to do just about anything, particularly perform publicly. Truly understanding my role requires that I acknowledge that there are specifics that I do not know (whose car broke down on the way in, who got engaged last night, whose dog has been missing for a week), while keeping in mind general principles (someone is always going through something, compassion is always in order), so that I can help each musician access their very best. Achieving perfection is not my role (thank goodness, since perfection is impossible!) but guiding musicians toward their best performance is. Understanding the difference is critical.

What is Your Why?

As a classical musician, your job requires you to book gigs and show up at a particular time to give a particular performance to a particular audience for an agreed upon fee. Obviously, understanding (i.e., comprehending) all of those details is important. That’s very surface-level understanding, basic competence, if you will.

Deeper understanding requires knowing WHY this performance, WHY this audience. It requires looking at the big picture and how this one piece fits into the puzzle. What does the audience need from you? How can you provide it? What do you hope to achieve? What obstacles are likely to arise? And ultimately, is it worth it?

This isn’t an easy path. It will NEVER be an easy path. There are about a million things you could do with your life that would be easier than being a performing classical musician. But you chose this road. You didn’t have to. Most people don’t. It requires a great deal of courage, and courage is built upon a solid WHY. So why are you doing this? What’s your purpose?

Once you’ve answered that, pin your eyes to that why, keep looking at the big picture, and pay attention to how each small piece fits. Practice empathy – not only for the people around you but also for the circumstances of the situation.

This is true understanding, and people that possess it are naturally attractive. Not guided by ego, they understand that they are a piece of a bigger puzzle. That understanding draws others to them. And though it doesn’t make this path easy, it makes it worth it.

If you’d like to dive deeper into how to build a profitable performing career, while avoiding the feast-or-famine cycle, and playing the repertoire you actually want to play, I encourage you to check out my free webinar.