Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Fake It ‘til You Make It

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), painted in 1896 by Ilya Repin
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), painted in 1896 by Ilya Repin

We mark the birth of the Russian composer Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov on March 18, 1844: 180 years ago today.  Born in the Russian town of Tikhvin – roughly 120 miles east of St. Petersburg – Rimsky-Korsakov died at the age of 64, on June 21, 1908, on his estate near the Russian town of Luga, about 85 miles south of St. Petersburg

Fake It ‘til You Make It

Like most kids growing up, I had various assumptions about grownups (i.e. “adults”).  As someone who has now – presumably – been an adult for very nearly a half of a century, I have learned that my assumptions – a few of which I’ve listed below – were all crazy wrong.

Assumption one: at around 21, we cross the line into adulthood.  

Wrong.  There are no such “lines”; we’re all changing, all the time.

Assumption two: adults are emotionally mature.

Wrong.  Physically, yes, I’m pushing seventy.  Emotionally? I’m roughly fifteen. On a good day.

Assumption three: adults know what they’re doing.

Really?  Adults only “know” what they’re doing (if they ever learn what their “doing” at all) after they’ve been doing it for decades.  Until then, they are apprentices, “learning on the job,” which are nice ways of saying “faking it”!

Growing up, I had no concept of this.  I just assumed that once you got to a certain age, you actually knew what you were doing.  

The Purnell School, Pottersville, New Jersey, main entrance
The Purnell School, Pottersville, New Jersey, main entrance

Silly me.  I was disabused of that bit of foolishness as soon as I entered the job market when, at the age of 23, I was hired as the music teacher at a now defunct, all-girls’ private high school in Pottersville, New Jersey called the Purnell School.  Oh sure, I thought I had it all together at the time, but in retrospect I didn’t know Scheiße from Shinola (which was a brand of shoe polish that was popular during the first decades of the twentieth century). 

In retrospect, my “apprenticeship” as a teacher – that period that saw me “fake it ‘til I made it” – lasted some 5 years. This doesn’t mean that I ever stopped learning on the job; hopefully, I’ll never stop getting better at what I do. It only means that it took me around 5 years to achieve what today I consider to be a passing competence at teaching.

And so it was as well for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.…

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