Private Lessons

The Beginning of Rhythms of the Game

By Dave Gluck ’89

A few years back, my two passions in life harmoniously collided when one of my all-time favorite New York Yankees, 51, Bernie Williams became one of my private composition students at the State University of New York College at Purchase.

In fact, I had a bruise on my right thigh from pinching it to make sure I wasn’t experiencing one of my many sleep-deprivation-induced dreams when Bernie first came into my office. With a college student aura about him, backpack and all, he sat down and asked how he should refer to me: “Is it Professor Gluck, Mr. Gluck, or…” I immediately interrupted him by exclaiming, “No offense, Bernie, but this is one of the most absurd questions anyone has ever asked me.” Why? I told him that if he only knew the umpteen times I screamed his first name while jumping off my couch in response to one of his game-winning hits or game-saving catches, he would certainly understand.

We immediately became friends, and the role of teacher and student flipped constantly, just like each half-inning of a baseball game. He was also impressed that, when I was not making music, I was calling balls and strikes as a certified high school umpire.

Teacher-Student Collaboration

I distinctly remember having a conversation early on about high-pressure situations, whether they were on a baseball diamond or a concert stage. Realizing that Bernie had the ability to focus while batting at Fenway Park with 40,000 spectators “booing” him made me, as a musician, realize that I could learn much from his ability to focus as an athlete.

Our composition lessons naturally segued into discussions on the parallel mindsets of musicians and athletes. I decided to start documenting all of the concepts we discussed after our lessons. After having written several entries into my baseball/music journal, I realized that we had enough intriguing insight into the similar attitudes of musicians and athletes to perhaps write a book about it. Bernie agreed. The result is Rhythms of the Game: The Link between Musical and Athletic Performance.

In the book, we explore the many similarities that exist in the training of professional musicians and athletes. But the most fundamental parallel is that both musicians and athletes spend the majority of their time preparing to perform. Ideally, both want the outcome of their performance to reflect the amount of time they spent preparing and the quality of their performance to surpass that of their practice time.

Practicing to Perform

One concept that I discuss in detail in the book dates back to my time at Ithaca College as a percussion performance major. Professor of percussion (extraordinaire) Gordon Stout was a great mentor of mine (and still is, by the way), not just as a percussionist but as a composer and all-around diverse musician as well.

In helping me prepare for my senior recital, he pointed out the importance of practicing to perform, not just practicing for the sake of practice. It is crucial for musicians to experience or at least simulate live performance situations during part of their practice sessions. This experience provides an opportunity to test exactly how well a musician knows the music that he’s working on.

Specifically, I talk about purposefully practicing with distractions after spending ample time learning material in the protective womb known as “the practice room.” The conditions of the practice room are perhaps ideal but certainly not realistic, not even close. I feel that young musicians need to act more like baseball Little Leaguers and partake a lot more in “scrimmage games” rather than the one obligatory “dress rehearsal."

Making Mistakes

Bernie and I also discuss the concept of failure and the inevitability of making mistakes along the way. The root of the word failure comes from the French word faillir, which simply means an omission of occurrence — an unexpected outcome. It doesn’t necessarily have a negative implication. On the contrary, failure is a prerequisite for long-term success. As long as athletes and musicians have prepared themselves thoroughly, failure is an indication that they are pushing the limits of their aptitude. Making mistakes can actually be beneficial as long as one learns from them. (Miles Davis was certainly an advocate of that.)

One of our broader realizations was that once someone has developed a skill set that pertains to a certain endeavor, that person can transfer those skills to another endeavor. Obviously, Bernie is a quintessential, living example of this!

It seems that sports and music are indeed opposite sides of the same gold coin.

Editor’s note: Rhythms of the Game: The Link between Musical and Athletic Performance was written by Williams, Gluck, and Bob Thompson and was published in July 2011.