There is No Pleasure in Mediocrity

            I ignored the advice of my lovely website designer and marketing consultant and decided to keep the slogan of the Murphy Music Academy as it was. She does tremendous work and was very helpful in the website redesign, and while it might make some business sense to remove the slogan on the grounds it is possibly off-putting and intimidating to new-comers, these words sit at the foundations of everything I seek in my life and career.

(BTW, if you do like the look of my website and would like help with yours, it was built by Barbara Wolfe at Honestly, she works at far too reasonable an hourly rate. You couldn’t do better for your money. Now, back to our scheduled programming.)

            The phrase itself finds its origins with my late grandmother, Tascille King, a brilliant pianist and former head of the music department of Ozark Bible College in Joplin, MO. Perhaps this connection is part of why I refuse to relinquish the slogan. I wouldn’t doubt it, certainly, but its meaning reaches far deeper than a mere family relation. That family relation is very special to me, however. My grandmother taught me piano, basic music theory and most importantly, constantly took me to concerts of classical music. Despite not having much of a local music culture, Joplin was extraordinarily fortunate to have a fantastic chamber music series. Growing up I saw the Miro, Yang, and Pacifica quartets, along with many others, right before they became famous. Every concert we attended she would tell me, “Watch closely! If you know how to properly watch a concert, it’s like getting a $100 lesson!”  She was full of wise and knowledgeable sayings. Yet, over the 17 years that I had the pleasure of knowing her, there was one saying that stuck more than all the others:

There is no pleasure in mediocrity.

A young and beautiful Tascille

A young and beautiful Tascille

            Any time I had the temptation to cut practicing a little earlier, I’d be reminded: There is no pleasure in mediocrity. Any time I’d feel like something I was playing was “good enough” I’d remember: There is no pleasure in mediocrity. If I was inclined to just go through the motions of practicing, without true focus on my actions, I’d be convicted of this truth: There is no pleasure in mediocrity. These words from her lips sealed themselves to my very soul, and for anyone who has ever tasted any kind of true excellence, even if for a fleeting moment, you know that your own heart aches to feast of it evermore.

            So, “There Is No Pleasure In Mediocritybecame the slogan of the Murphy Music Academy. Not only do these wise words reflect my own goals and life but can and should be of benefit to everyone. It’s also something that, deep down, we all want to hear. While there is certainly a part of us that wants our ego stroked and our worth validated without any real scrutiny and discretion, we long for a competence that couldn’t be denied by our worst enemies. I can’t help but think how much improved things would be if this were the dominate attitude of our culture. Especially for us younger men is this attitude paramount. We are inevitably drawn to it, whether we heed it or not. One thing you will notice about those figures that appeal most to younger men, whether they be genuine or mere opportunists, is they simultaneously berate the current state of their audience while appealing to their latent potential. “You aren’t accomplishing all that you are capable of! Now imagine what could be if you did!” We want desperately reminders that there is no pleasure in our mediocrity - that there is pleasure in excellence, there is beauty in excellence, that in excellence resides the essence of life itself! The chase of excellence within a worthy pursuit bestows meaning for the individual and elevates not only the immediate community but also the surrounding society. A society without pursuit of excellence in something true, worthy and beautiful will stagnate and rot. Living little more than a subsistence existence, it will stay weak, flaccid, unimproved and unimportant, or will hedonistically consume the fruits of excellence from past generations until nothing is left.

            While not 100 percent the case, I believe along with many that our society has arrived at the latter stage of consumerist decadence. Nearly all societies and cultures reach this point. Babylon did. Rome did. We are at least as rich and powerful as they. Why would we think we’d avoid this fate? The ironic tragedy of excellence is it is often driven by discomfort, and yet it produces such comfort for society that they then see no need to keep pursuing excellence. But perhaps not all is lost. In the legends of all societies, there is usually one man, or a small group of men that takes that first plunge. Going against the grain of the routine of everyone’s daily lives, he instead chooses to pursue excellence. Excellence is so profoundly intoxicating that the surrounding society has not but two choices how to react. The first is to kill that troublemaker and remove him from disrupting your society. The second is to be fully inspired by him, and for more and more men to take up excellence, until the pursuit of such permeates your society.

            Beyond the obvious reason that I want my students to do as well as possible, the reason I maintain the slogan is for the societal benefit. I desire above all that the excellence that shines forth from the Murphy Music Academy will shame the lazy and unfulfilled, inspiring them to pursue their own excellence. Excellence in one field – if it isn’t first squashed by the jealous degenerates of society, the damnable equalizers among us that can’t bear to see anyone reaching to any height above their own – will only lead to greater excellence.

            I’m never that hopeful, but perhaps our society can be saved, if only we recognize the unavoidable fact that, while there might be immediate gratification, there truly is no pleasure in mediocrity.