One of my favorite memories of college happened in a freshman English class. As the teacher was handing back our graded papers, he held mine back and read it to the class.
I was so proud and, more importantly, surprised. That element of surprise imprinted the experience into my memory more than any other assignment I had in 4 years of college.
The discussion about what makes people happy often revolves around 2 components: the journey and the destination. For me, surprise is a third category that deserves a separate mention altogether.
On a trip I took last week with my wife, Helen, I walked into the common room of a lodge near our cabin. A young man was on his own playing an old piano. I was drawn to his music and sat down.
After a few minutes I asked him if I could join him with my violin. The experience was nothing short of magic for me. It was an hour of musical conversation that involved listening, sharing and developing ideas together. People drifted into the room to see what was going on. At the end of the session, the pianist, the people sitting around us and I all agreed that something special had just taken place.
These musical surprises happen every so often for me. The pleasure I feel from these moments leaves an imprint on my memory that far surpasses any concert I have played.
A psychologist might explain to me that, because I was not anticipating the experience, my brain didn’t dole out the dopamine in the days and hours prior to the impromptu concert. I got the hit in one brief moment.
By definition, surprises cannot be planned. But It helps that I’m prepared to enjoy them when they come along.
And as a teacher, I want my students to be prepared for any musical surprises that may come their way.