Last week I was in San Francisco, and took the opportunity to visit the Asian Art Museum. In my travels I have been to Japan, Taiwan and mainland China and have come to appreciate the cultures and art of these fascinating places. The Asian Art Museum has a special exhibition of items from the National Palace Museum in Taipei and it was quite something to behold. Included in the exhibition is one of the most popular and important pieces of Chinese art, the so-called “meat shaped stone” or “priceless porkbelly”, carved from a piece of jasper during the Qing Dynasty and appearing in the United States now for the first time.
But something else caught my eye and I kept returning to it. It is a sign in lacquer on wood, created for the Emperor Yongzheng who reigned from 1723-1735. Apparently the emperor, when he was a prince, was prone to some habits that displeased his father, Emperor Kongxi. The son took his father’s advice to heart, and had signs made that he put around the palace to remind him of his shortcomings. The photo above shows one of these signs and the message is:
Heed rashness and use perseverance.
In other words, pay attention to your tendency to act rashly and take your time to carefully persevere in tasks.
This is a phrase that has been around since the beginning of time. But this father’s words of wisdom – beautifully portrayed in this sign – are a reminder of the importance of carefully considering what we say and do. We live in an age where it is too easy to “shoot from the hip” – or lip – without thinking through an action. Of course any successful musician has learned the value of the disciplined life, of not acting rashly or looking for quick fixes, but persevering through difficult tasks in order to find success.
When I need advice on how to proceed in a situation, I often turn to the book of Proverbs in the Bible. It has a tremendous amount of wisdom that speaks to every situation you may encounter. On the subjects of rashness, perseverance and heeding advice, it has a great deal to say:
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)
A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Proverbs 13:1)
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)
And this passage that speaks to the value of perseverance, with a model taken from one of the smallest animals on earth:
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:6-11)
My trombone teacher, Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1940-1985) taught me important lessons about perseverance. In the book we wrote together, Mastering the Trombone, Mr. Kleinhammer wrote these important and challenging words:
World class trombone players do not just happen. Their talents are forged by the dual furnaces of determination and diligence.
In this, Edward Kleinhammer was acting like the loving Emperor Kongxi, reminding his son, Emperor Yongzheng, of the importance to “Heed rashness and use perseverance.”
I think I need to go practice now…