An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but we can also use it to describe those musical experiences which have instantly given us an understanding of the heart, of our fullest potential.

Another term for epiphany would be bodhodaya, from Sanskrit bodha ‘wisdom’ and udaya ‘rising’. Buddha, sitting under the Bodhi tree, had his epiphany of Nirvana. The Zen term kensho also describes this moment, referring to the feeling attendant on realizing the answer to a koan.
The Christian feast day of Epiphany celebrates the coming of the 3 Magi, whose lives were utterly changed by what they witnessed in the infant Jesus.

As musicians, we have all had these moments where our lives have been changed forever: an enthralling performance with a great artist, a sudden realization in the practice room, or an especially powerful moment with a great teacher. Our lives have been shaped and guided by these moments, and we strive for more.

Epiphanies come from a depth of prior knowledge and experience, and don’t come easily. When our minds are still and our hearts are open, musical epiphanies can come more readily, giving us a clarity of understanding that is far more powerful than any book learning could ever offer.

In this new year, I encourage you to look back over 2016 and salvage those musical moments that have pointed to your highest potential as a musician and human. Leave the rest—the mistakes, the failures—buried in the past.

Take those musical epiphanies and use them as seeds to plant in your new year. Bring the calmness of mind and openness of heart into each of your practice sessions.

Epiphanies can’t be forced, but you CAN create the space for them to happen.

Create the space by taking time to be quiet. Take time to get off the dopamine addiction of our phones. Spend time in nature, or simply in silence.

May 2017 be a year of deeper experience for us all, bringing the hope, courage, and energy needed to overcome all obstacles that keep us from expressing our fullest potential.

What Was Your First Musical Epiphany?

3 thoughts on “What Was Your First Musical Epiphany?

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  • March 9, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    I can tell you about the last one I had. It was in December 2017. On FB a friend posted the rehearsal for an upcoming program. It was for bagpipe, piano, organ etc. ‘Highland Cathedral’ was the tune, which I had never heard before. It was the most beautiful tune I had heard for a long time and it reduced me to tears, over and over. I decided to learn to play the bagpipes [even if it meant learning to play that one tune only] and started the preparations – I am 82 years old. Instruction books and bagpipe practice chanter in hand, I started my journey. I could play the chanter for only about 20 minutes each day when my embouchure would collapse. This went on for about a month when one day while I had the chanter pulled apart to dry off the double reed I blew on the naked reed – it made a ‘reedy’ noise. I did it again and again and consistently got the same noise. Well. . . . . if one epiphany were not enough, here was another one right on the heels of the first! Namely, “If I can get sound out of this reed then I can get sound out of an oboe reed!” I had worshipped the oboe from afar for decades, dismissing the thoughts of learning as way past my ability to learn. More tears, more agony of thoughts of failure but the determination would not go away. Today, six weeks after buying my oboe, I practice one and one half to two hours per day. I took to the oboe like a duck takes to water but with one caveat, the duck already knew how to swim, I am still learning. I had to leave off the bagpipe chanter because my old bony fingers cannot reach and plug up the open holes but I savor the experience of giving it my best effort. I can play several tunes on the oboe, however slowly and haltingly it happens but my sight-reading, breathing and embouchure control improve steadily. I LIKE to practice [imagine that] and I anticipate all the the success a newbie 82-yr-old oboe player can muster.

    • April 5, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      this is fantastic! You are an inspiration! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!


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