Neil Peart, of the band Rush, is widely considered one of the greatest drummers of all time.
In the documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage I learned something extraordinary about him. At the height of his prowess; at the height of his band’s power and prestige, he decided to reinvent himself. That is, he decided to reinvent his playing style. In his words, he was looking for a “looseness” that had escaped him in his lifelong effort to master the precision that became the hallmark of his style.
He sought out the famous jazz drummer and teacher, Freddie Gruber, and became a learner all over again. Remember, he was already the best – the best – at what he does. And he knew he could be better. But that knowledge is nothing compared to the humility and vulnerability required to subordinate yourself to the emotional demands of letting go of expertise in order to make space for new possibility.
Personally, I love that his goal was “looseness.” It makes perfect sense to me that after so much time and energy throughout a lifetime of brutally long, arduous practice sessions, he would recognize that “perfection” was no longer a sufficient goal.
When I hear “looseness” I think of presence, accessibility, responsiveness and openness. I think of improvisation and creativity.
What he reports about the impact of his training is the best part. He says that to the listener his sound would be no different. The difference would be felt and appreciated by his band mates. His “looseness” created more space for them; the sound and structure of his playing opened up the possibility of new interpretations and added resonance in their own musicality.
His willingness to learn displayed the best qualities of leadership: he challenged himself to change before asking others to do so, modeling the necessary humility required to go from best to even better. In doing so, he generously provided a space for those around him to do the same.
Author’s note: yes, that’s consecutive posts influenced by and about the band, Rush. I just saw their documentary (available on Netflix) and I am so impressed with who they are, how they work and what they’ve accomplished. A really good, very inspiring story.