AND LIS-TEN AND
Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!
It is very clear from our experience of life that different people experience the same events in very different ways. After seeing a film it is always fascinating to read a selection of people’s reviews online. I remember a film a few years ago called The Tree of Life where I found reviews expressing the full range of responses from ‘one of the most moving/outstanding/brilliant films I have ever seen’ to ‘don’t waste your time on this pretentious crap’. Ostensibly the same external artefact - in this case a film - can bring forth a huge range of human reaction and opinion. Some people are very happy to go along unquestioningly with the emotional trajectory of a film, something which is often made all the stronger by the musical score, whereas others start from a point of view of extreme scepticism about anything which they feel is trying to generate a particular emotional response. Sometimes film scores are so lavish, so intense, that they really dominate the experience. But in other films, the scoring can be quite minimal but deeply effective in creating space for the audience. I remember the amazing power of the music in the film Vera Drake in spite of the fact that it is only present for something like six minutes of a two hour film. To my mind the best films always leave space for different responses from different people, and indeed raise different questions for different people. Moving across to the world of teaching music it is not surprising then that people learn in very different ways. One of the great learning points for a teacher is that a way of explaining something to one pupil does not necessarily work for another at all. In my experience we all have ‘blind spots’, connections in the brain which don’t appear to light up just as we have areas of illumination, connections where everything seems totally clear. As teachers we need to keep on trying to open doors, open connections for different people from different angles. It is also useful as teachers to reflect ourselves on areas of life where we need other people to open connections for us. For instance I have always struggled with understanding diagrams for assembling things together. I need someone to explain the diagrams to me in a clear calm slow and non-judgmental way just as I realise others need various aspects of music theory explained. Just as the seeking for perfection bedevils so many human interactions, it creates a real challenge for music teachers. The pursuit of perfection could be described as a seductive illusion, and yet paradoxically as music teachers we have to keep up the journey, the seeking towards perfection whilst knowing that its attainment is impossible. A good aim for us to have is to nurture this awareness of paradox in our pupils. It is a very subtle balance to steer someone to see that it is worth aiming for something which is impossible to attain. The deeper lesson is that piano playing, just like life, is about the process of flow and energy, not about end-gaining a particular objective. From this sort of perspective, a pupil can really start to make their own connections between their piano playing and the rest of their life with more confidence and awareness. Responses to particular pieces of music, like films, are of course very personal. The music that I have composed relating to the Bach Flower Remedies does not aim to set out an experience which people should have of the particular Remedy but rather a journey which people are invited to take in their own way at their own speed. A few years ago we ran some Musical Remedies sessions which combined art exercises with the Flower Remedy music. The art exercises also proved to be very personal and gave people space to find out what was already present in - or just beneath - the surface of their current awareness. Just as Dr Bach intuited the connections between the way the plants grow and the way mental states arise, the music and art exercises of the Musical Remedies retreat enabled people to intuit their own connections more directly. In the Philokalia, the Desert Fathers talked repeatedly of the need for prayer to move from the mind to the heart. In contemporary mindfulness practice we reflect on the similarity between our mental, emotional and physical experience of constant change, and the fact that we don’t need to identify with any of these changes. Our deeper level of connection is with flow, not with solidity. There is ultimately in Ken Wilber’s phrase ‘no boundary’ between us and the world. In mystical language we already live and breathe ‘in Cristo’, in the universal divine energy. We live in a society where the mental dimension has been given an exaggerated significance. The power of contemporary technology adds to the tendency to strive for perfection. So many more things are possible for us now than even twenty years ago that we start to feel that this perfection is both desirable and achievable. Before we know it, this mentality then gets inside the creative acts of composition, film making, drawing and painting. The Musical Remedies sessions aimed to restore some sense of balance, to use our mental emotional and physical senses in harmony, to see more clearly what is happening in the undercurrent of thoughts which move along with us just underneath the surface, and to realise that our true identity is not with any of this at all. Certain themes keep coming back through these writings in much the same way as themes recur during pieces of music. Through all my years of teaching people on the piano, the most important recurring themes are : BREATHE LET GO STOP TRYING SO HARD BE MORE AWARE OF MENTAL TENSION BE MORE AWARE OF PHYSICAL TENSION AWARENESS - AWAKENESS