I spent years writing a dissertation on authenticity in jazz, then promptly discarded the concept of “authenticity” because it seemed impossible to define. Recent personal crises and professional transitions have provided the definition: authenticity is the practice of balancing fear and love.
The past few months have been a crash-course in fear. I finally understand the continual feeling of “I’m going to die!” that characterizes extreme trauma (something that, for better or worse, my sheltered, White-girl existence has mostly protected me from). The only way to truly move past it is to at least partially accept that, yes, you and everyone you love are going to die (and that when and how remains an unknown).
As overwhelming as fear can be, it is crucial for survival and success. It’s an ancient mechanism that guides you to safety. The trick is to avoid staying stuck in overdrive (anger, trauma, aggression, etc.) or attempting to suppress it (numbness, addiction, passive-aggression, etc.)
If fear is the desire to escape death, love is the desire to transcend it. These are the relationships, passions, and dreams that contribute to something bigger than our own mortal lives. But to pursue love without confronting and accepting fear inevitably leads to heartbreak.
Musical practice (like yoga and other forms of meditation) works best when it allows your fear and love sides to communicate with each other. As you learn to understand your own languages of fear and love, you start to better understand other people’s languages in rehearsal and performance (inability to understand these languages in yourself and others is the root of most conflicts and failures).
This is how I went from writing a 200-page academic dissertation on musical authenticity to creating a 52-card set (Practice Deck I for Jazz Bass) to teach people how to practice musical authenticity step-by-step. In many ways, the latter was much, much harder (and just as time-consuming) because it required me to step outside of academia and experience the best and worst of an authentic life.