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Friday, December 8, 2023

A Musician's Humanity

November 10, 2022
Austin Price

Embracing Dissatisfaction with Dr. Karlyn Bond

By Austin Price

Artists can be easily dissatisfied with their performance and lead unbalanced or depressed lives. However, accepting imperfections—the humanity of art—can help artists regain their belief in themselves and have the drive and courage to perform.  

This year’s new chair of the music department, Dr. Karlyn Bond, explored how a musician can live a balanced life and have a deeper understanding of being unsatisfied with their music. 

A musician becomes anxious by trying to perform things perfectly. It is easy to be dissatisfied when you are aiming at perfection, but nothing is ever perfect. Therefore, dealing with dissatisfaction becomes a question that is important to understand for the artist/musician.  

Dr. Bond said of the artist’s problem with dissatisfaction, “I’m not sure there is a problem, in fact, I think, as a musician, there is always at least an element of dissatisfaction, and I put it that way for a reason. I think an artist or a musician can be paralyzed from lack of satisfaction. But if there’s an element of dissatisfaction, then that can be, well, several things. It can be a motivation to keep working and it can be a strong indication that you or the musician are aware of what is left to be done. And, really, there is always more to do.” [1] 

There is an endless plane of possibility to improve in each career. Understanding this is one way to not be too down on yourself for not achieving everything. 

Piano Keys. A pianist knows the sight of the keys as they practice constantly. Photo by Austin Price.

Dr. Bond continued, “So if at any point you are satisfied as a musician, and of course we could talk about what these words actually mean, if you are wholly satisfied with a composition or a performance, then that may indicate a limitation on your part in a lack of awareness of what is left to do. And it could also be kind of an indication of stagnation.” [2] 

As there is so much repertoire to learn and compose, stagnation for a long time is dangerous to progression. And if the musician constantly searches for satisfaction with the way they perform, they are pursuing music incorrectly and will inevitably lose motivation.  

Dr. Bond continued, “Dissatisfaction can be an indication that there is more left to do, which means you are being realistic about human limitations and it’s an exciting or pleasant reminder that there is more left to do. I mean, if there weren’t, there would be something so innately boring about that scenario and uninspiring, and then also dissatisfaction could be so inextricably bound up with human longing, of the sort we were talking about just a minute ago, that means you’re still being real as a human being.” [3] 

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma said during the intro to his masterclass, “At one point, I had the audacity to think I could play a perfect concert. I was in the middle of the concert, and I realized everything’s going perfectly well. And I was bored out of my mind. That was the moment that I made a fateful decision that I was actually going to devote my life to human expression versus human perfection.” [4] 

“Bored out of my mind” is not what a listener imagines Yo-Yo Ma to be when playing his cello. When any musician tries to perform with perfection, they lose humanity, the imperfection, the actual beauty of what life is; they lose what the music is trying to communicate. Knowing this, musicians can be less demanding of themselves going forward.

Something that musicians forget is how to live a balanced life, which is important for musicians to stay mentally and physically stable.  

Dead Leaves. The rain is washing away the leaves of fall colors, leaving trees less perfect. Photo by Austin Price.

Dr. Bond said on the question of living a balanced life, “I think it’s hard for all of us to live balanced lives, and the same things that would help people in general live balanced lives certainly apply to musicians. Things like eating, sleeping, and exercising on a regular basis. And balancing the social, with introspection and solitude.” [5] 

Finding this balance is difficult.  

Dr. Bond said, “Musicians and artists, perhaps more than people in general, are trying to create, therefore striving for something that is extremely difficult, well, I mean it’s impossible to pull off with satisfaction. So, one element to being balanced as a musician is to accept the job never being done the way you want it to be done as part of the territory. And actually, to accept that as not necessarily a bad thing. Again, because it’s an indication that there’s always room for growth.” [6] 

A musician that achieves perfection is a musician that is achieving boredom. However, a musician that has the awareness of how to deal with dissatisfaction is a musician that is constantly learning new things, ultimately revealing that they are, indeed, human. This gives the musician mental clarity over what is now realistically possible.  



  1. Interview with Karlyn Bond, 11/03/22. 
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. MasterClass. (2021, October 21). Yo-Yo Ma Teaches Music and Connection | Official Trailer | MasterClass [Video] Youtube.  
  5. Interview with Karlyn Bond, 11/03/22. 
  6. Ibid. 



  1. Piano Keys. A pianist knows the sight of the keys as they practice constantly. Photo by Austin Price. 
  2. Dead Leaves. The rain is washing away the leaves of fall colors, leaving trees less perfect. Photo by Austin Price.

Title Photo: Music Rehearsal. A group of three prepare a work in the auditorium. Photo by Austin Price. 

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