Monday, February 1, 2021

Good, Better, Best


What are you binge watching this winter?  I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of offerings, including the series “Pretend It’s a City,” featuring author, humorist, and NYC’s top curmudgeon, Fran Lebowitz.  Maybe that is because I remember her writings from decades past, and I’m curious to see if she’s changed much. She hasn’t.


I did find the second episode to be uplifting, despite her deadpan delivery. She talked about music, her long friendship with Charlie Mingus, and how important music is to people. She told the story of her early experiences as a cello student. She said that she knew if she practiced more, she’d get better, but she’d never get good.


That jumped out at me, and I’ve been ruminating about it since. How do we define good? More importantly, how do our students define good? In English grammar, good is the weakest of the comparative descriptors, and best is, well, the best. But not for Fran, and maybe not for our students.


Good means getting the music to a high level of performance, a level that deserves admiration from those in the lower levels of ability. Good means you’re an achiever with skill, talent or whatever you want to call it – that mysterious something that causes you to stand apart.


Does good also mean you have no appreciation for getting better? In some cases, I notice that with students. These students often are very self-critical, a trait that Fran admits to having. They want more than getting better. They want perfection, their personal definition of good.


The way to find out is by asking. If they play something that they consider good, what does that mean? Ask. When you learn the answer, you will know how best to use the word good. And that could be for the better.