“Ode to Joy”

Written by Jeffrey Nytch,
Director of The Entrepreneurship Center for Music, Univ of CO- Boulder

I’m a golf nut. I’m terrible at it, but since I was a kid I’ve loved the game and been fascinated with its colorful history, its sometimes arcane rules, its etiquette, everything about it. Someday when I win the PowerBall and retire to a life of indecorous wealth I’m going to live on a golf course, get some lessons so I can stop embarrassing myself, and play golf every day.

Until then, I enjoy watching the pros. The Masters Tournament is the highlight of the year for me, and this past Sunday was the Final. Tiger Woods was in the hunt for the title, so I saw quite a bit of him during the course of the coverage. It was interesting observing him: even when he was playing well, he seemed completely deflated to me. It was like the game didn’t bring him any joy anymore. He was desperately trying to do better because that’s all he’s ever known: get better at golf. WIN. But ever since his personal life went so publicly  down in flames a year ago – and with it, his winning golf game – he’s just not been able to find himself. At one very telling moment, a camera shot revealed the grandstand behind him: this golfer who once attracted crowds so enormous that golf courses had to close their gates was playing to empty seats.

As I was pondering this I got to thinking about the power of joy. By which I mean the power that is apparent when you’re doing something you genuinely love, something you’re driven to do for the shear joy of doing it. Take someone like Yo Yo Ma: what is it that makes him such a popular performer? Is it because he’s the best player in the world? I’ll wager that’s not it; there are lots of great cellists out there. What makes him so compelling is the unbridled joy that positively pours out of him every time he’s on stage. You can tell that making music for him is the coolest, funnest, most joy-filled thing imaginable. Half the time it looks like he’s about to burst out into tears of ecstasy. And that makes us want to watch him, makes what he does connect with us. And it’s also what makes his music-making special, so it’s a two-way street: his joy not only makes us enjoy him more, it makes him a better artist. Contrast Yo Yo with Tiger, who’s lost his joy – and with it, lost both his game and a lot of his fans.

So what about you, dear reader? Where is your joy? Sometimes we can get so busy practicing and studying and striving for perfection that we can lose sight of what it is we love about music to begin with. We lose track of our joy. This is a lot more common than perhaps we’d like to admit, yet we all know players who might be technically clean but who, by all appearances, look like they’re getting about as much joy out of playing as a root canal…do we care about watching them at all? I mean, let’s be real: if nobody is getting any joy out of the proposition, then what’s the point?

If you’re not sure where your joy is, I’m willing to bet it’s in there somewhere. Most likely you wouldn’t be a musician in the first place if music didn’t bring you some joy. So if you’ve lost track of it, take some time to go find it. It’s not only the key to connecting with your audience, it’s the key to keeping your musical game vibrant, alive, and meaningful.


About Jeffrey Nytch
Jeffrey Nytch comes to the Entrepreneurship Center for Music having built a diverse career as a composer, teacher, performer, and arts administrator. For 15 years he has continually created fresh ways to support and nurture that career, whether it be through developing commissioning opportunities, establishing residencies with community organizations, or building relationships with patrons. He has also run a small business, helped found a non-profit service organization in Houston, performed a wide range of repertoire as a vocalist, and served five years as Managing Director of The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (“PNME”), one of the nation’s premiere new music ensembles.



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