Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ellison and the unkown

"First there are the things that you know you know - that's probably a small section, maybe 10 or 15 percent. Then there's a larger part, which is the things you know you don't know. Perhaps 30 or 35 percent. The biggest section is the things you don't know that you don't know. That's the darkest, and it can be the most frightening, but it's also where the greatest learning begins."
I'm paraphrasing from a masterclass given last week by Paul Ellison - no, that wasn't Donald Rumsfeld talking! Most of the time when Rummy talked about 'unknown unknowns' my eyes started glazing over, but the way Paul Ellison talked about it really made sense.

Ellison usually starts out a lesson by asking the student a question - how did that go, do you have any thoughts, what issues are you working on here? That just sheds some light on the known unknowns, those problems we're already however dimly aware of. Then he likes to steadily, and sometimes stealthily, open up the world of unknown unknowns. He'll ask a question about the phrase structure or the period performance practice - or he'll sneak around and adjust your arm and say, "Now try it like this!" It's all calculated to reveal some of the possibilities you hadn't even considered. I think of him as a yoga teacher on the double bass, always pushing his students into a deeper, more inspired, more flexible place.

I'd like to write a ton more about Ellison and my week at the ISB convention in Oklahoma City - oh no, you're saying, here comes an excuse! It was an amazing week, and I came home with a huge new assortment of known unknowns - and maybe an inkling of all the unknown unknowns that still await.

Unfortunately, I also came home to a colossally messy apartment, which I need to sort through and pack in the next week! So I'm crazily sifting through papers, books, and unclassifiable junk right now, hoping that all the great memories and sounds from Oklahoma City will live long enough for me to write about them.


Anonymous said...

As a bassist in undergrad I read and hear a lot of negative things about the likelyhood of ever getting a job - that is, the unlikelyhood. Often it can be really discouraging and depressing, making me feel like practice is almost pointless as I'll never get a job anyway, but I find your blog really inspiring. Obviously you've worked really hard, and although by the sounds of things sometimes you've felt discouraged yourself, your writing always makes me feel a bit better, that hard work is worthwhile and rewarding... I'm not sure exactly what I'm trying to say, except that I really enjoy your blog and you write very well. Thanks for sharing your bass thoughts!

- a bassist in New Zealand

amber said...

Matt, I'm trying madly to get in touch with you, but you don't have contact info!!!

Help a sister out, hey?


amber at mediamuscle dot com


Matt Heller said...

Thank you so much for your messages!

I've definitely been down and discouraged too, and struggled with those messages of scarcity and pointlessness. I still struggle with them a lot, actually, and sometimes it seems the hardest work is just to resist those dismal thoughts.

I wish you all the best, and thank you for your words - they help give me courage and hope as well!

I'll write more soon, though I have been having technical obstacles recently!