“This guy is good. Real good. I think he’s better than me. There goes my shot.”
That is a snippet of my internal monologue when I was first introduced to Jesse Thompson. It was the year after high school and we were both at a little school in upstate New York where we were trying to figure out what we believed. In that moment, I believed that Jesse was my competition. We were both auditioning for the same spot as a guitar player on a music team of no lasting importance, but in that moment I felt I had something to prove. Being a guitar player was something that made me stand out, and I felt like I had put a lot of work into getting good. But he was better and I knew it.
We ended up in the same group, with Jesse on lead guitar and me on bass, but we weren’t yet on the same team. He had skills and I had a choice to make. Would I look for opportunities to show him up or to build him up? Would I look for opportunities to prove what I already knew or ask him to teach me what I could learn from him? Would he be my competitor or my collaborator?
I am competitive by nature, and left to my own devices that gets pretty unhealthy pretty quick. One of the reasons I turned to music in the first place was that music culture, when it is healthy, is not a competition. Competition breeds envy and isolation and its purpose is to divide the winners from the losers. Collaboration breeds growth and community as it calls you out of your isolation and into harmony with others. If we had become rivals, I probably would have never seen Jesse again. In what was probably an act of divine intervention, Jesse and I both made a series of choices that has made us collaborators for more than 10 years now. From New York to Virginia, and now in Nashville, my life has been made richer by the music that has brought us together.