By Marvin Wilson
I was able to go to college on a music scholarship. My father was a poor Christian minister, and had I not been born with the gift of music, the advantage of higher education would have been denied me. Thanks to my God-given talents, I was able to go. I was a music major with a thespian minor at Central Michigan University. At age eighteen, I thought I knew everything. I had talent, intelligence, youthful bold confidence and a brash attitude, and a social/political/religious view of our world (this was the late 1960’s, mind you) that was one of “I know everything.” And anyone who disagreed with me (especially my parents and any authority figures in the older generation, those despicable leaders of the hypocritical oppressive “Orwellian – big brother” government of the times), were dead wrong. I was a “Free Spirit,” venturing forth into a brave new world that me and my Hippie friends were forging with our new lifestyle, our drugs, sex
and rock and roll religion of freedom.
In my freshman year at college, I met Professor Stephen Hobson. He was my choir director and my private lesson voice coach. He looked to me to be in his late sixties. He was (well, he seemed to me at the time) stodgy and stiff, and a strict disciplinarian. He demanded of me a level of self-discipline and rigorous diurnal practice regimen that I was completely without the ability to understand, let alone adhere to. One little flutter in-between voice registers, any tiny slippage in tonal and/or pitch control when singing my assigned lessons in his torture chambers he called a “practice room” every Wednesday, he would stop playing his piano accompaniment, look at me with this “you know as well as I that that was not good enough” expression and demand that I try it again. Over and over … until I got it perfect. Perfect according to his obnoxious elitist opinion. I couldn’t stand that man.
He was asking way too much of me, and for no good reason. I did not see the need for such a tyrannical imposition of discipline on me and my life, my singing, my anything. I was writing songs about freedom and liberty, gigging at night in my rock and roll band, getting over to thunderous applause at the hands of my Hippie peers, why did I need discipline? I was a one-of-a-kind talent; my uninhibited, serendipitous, wild and natural style was destined to become the standard for future generations. Professors in decades to come would teach their students how to emulate ME! Ah, but those of you with any substantial life experience can guess the rest of the story. I never “made it” as a big impact famous rock and roller. I eventually wound up playing for modest money in little disco bars, playing live juke-box cover tunes for young people to get drunk to and screw each other. But I had learned something along the way.
I learned that in order to become “free” with anything, any pursuit, any hobby, any career, any craft, any aspiration of great accomplishment, you had to go through the discipline first. I never made it as a big name musician, but I did learn how to play my instrument. To this day, I am free when I pick up a guitar. I can express emotions, elevate my consciousness, get all heaven-bound and glorified, and anyone around me will experience the same thing I am feeling. It’s a miracle I can produce, at any time, in any place, on any guitar of reasonable quality. But it took years and years of discipline to reach that plateau. Years and years of overcoming sore fingertips and blistered split open calluses, learning the scales, studying the modes, practicing the positions, emulating the recordings artists, getting so familiar with the neck I owned it as an extensions of my hand.
Towards the end of my bar-playing nightclub career, Professor Stephen Hobson came out to see my band. I had called him, letting him know we were playing in his town that week. Even so, I was surprised to see him in the audience – remember, this is a classical musician, a prim and proper professor, a patron of the fine arts, someone who goes to operas and symphony performances. For him to go to a dance club and listen to a top forty band was rather impressive.
And you know what? He was impressed with our performance. I went and sat at the table with him and his wife after the second set and he was beaming. He had wonderful accolades to bestow upon me and my ensemble, complimenting the vocals, the arrangements, our use of dynamics, and our overall command of our instruments. And it was then that I told him what I had wanted to say for several years. I told him that I finally understood what discipline meant, what its value was. I knew, I told him, that undertaking the arduous discipline of any given art or craft was the necessary and ONLY way to get free within that art or craft. I told him that I finally appreciated what he had been trying to get through to my thick headstrong skull all those years ago. I knew I had been a special student to him, he had a great amount of belief in my talent, and I also knew I had been a disappointment to him, because he never “got through to me” when I was under his tutelage. I apologized to him for that shortcoming and assured him that his teaching had stuck with me all these years and had now been realized in my life and practice.
The now retired Professor Stephen Hobson’s eighty-year-old eyes filled up. He said, and I quote, “Then my life, my career, has been worth it!”
We hugged. Long and sincere. That was the last time I ever saw him. He died a couple years later. I will never forget Professor Stephen Hobson and what he taught me about applying discipline to my life in order to get beyond boundaries and break free. It applies to relationships and marriage, to any career, to any sport, to any hobby, to any life pursuit whatsoever. If you want to eventually be free, you must initially go through the discipline. It may sound like an oxymoron, “Freedom through Discipline,” it did to me as a young Hippie, but it makes perfect sense to me now.
God bless and keep you, Professor Stephen Hobson. Your legacy, your teaching, lives on.
Marvin is giving a copy of his book Owen Fiddler away. Contest closes in 2 weeks.