Many, if not all, of us musicians tend to idolize other musicians–those who have attained some level of technical fluency, notoriety, success, expression, wisdom, etc.  We tend to put these people up on pedestals, which can lead to both failure to see their human flaws and disappointment when we see those flaws, but they may nevertheless still be our focus of adulation.

Idols can also tell us a lot about ourselves, our interests, our goals, our passions, our dreams.  So, I ask you to ask yourself: “who are my idols?”

Here are some of my idols, and what insight they tell me about myself:

John Petrucci

Who is he?  The lead guitarist of the progressive metal band Dream Theater; shredder, infections groove generator, tone-obsessed tinkerer, and excellent rhythm guitar player.

What he tells me about myself: I at some level aim to be larger than what I see myself as right now.  I aim to be loud, with infectious music that is hard to understand completely on a first listen, and achieve great artistic success and ability.  This is typical; he is indeed a larger-than-life rock star, and I am a bit of a fanboy.

Larry Wilmore

Who is he? The host of (now cancelled in a frankly idiotic move by the network) The Nightly Show on Comedy Central.  An innovative thinker who amassed a team that tactfully but directly addressed many topics relevant in today’s America, but particularly focusing on ideas of race.

What he tells me about myself: He told me, in a courteous but direct point, that it wasn’t enough to go through life normally as a white man.  By doing that and not deliberately advocating for those who aren’t like me, I am complicit in institutional racism.  I had read about white privilege before, but he brought race relations to a new forefront in my mind each time my fiance and I watched his show.  I will miss being provoked from my safe tower of privilege.  He told me I was not being a good citizen and helped me realize that.  Idolizing him tells me that I am scrappy, pointed, and still a bit too safe and secluded to act out as much as I need to.

My second cello teacher (referred to here as “J” to protect her identity)

Who is she? A cellist and teacher extraordinaire, but also a remarkable human who has been through so much but remains open to life and all its possibilities.  J is the reason I didn’t quit music as a teenager, and who encouraged me to find my way musically, even though I was in a rough place.  She also taught me that we all struggle, no matter who we are.

What she tells me about myself: She proves that you can have terrible things happen in your life, and still be open, accepting, warm, and compassionate.  Idolizing her tells me that I am a positive person at heart, a genuine, caring person who just wants to make music, as hard as that can be in today’s world where misery and stress seem to abound.  I know I can make music and be happy with it, despite the pitfalls in life, because of her teaching (both musical and non-musical).

What does all of this have to do with music composition?  Ask yourself who you idolize.  Analyze who those people are, and what your idolization of them tells you about yourself.  Are they mostly musicians?  Are they in a specific genre?  Are they humans who you enjoy being around, music aside?  Are they people whom you’d like to surpass in some area?  Looking at the people you idolize can help you find who you are, articulate your goals, and keep you on the path to fulfillment and music making–which are our goals, no?

Questions?  Comments?  Feel free to post who your idols are here, if you would like.