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14. Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor from Book 1




GO                                        Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

At the beginning of the Liturgy in the Eastern Church the deacon says quietly to the priest ‘It is time for the Lord to act’. There have been a lot of preparations before this moment with material things such as the putting on of vestments, the cutting of bread and the lighting of candles. But it is now as if all that human activity can be put to one side and space created for the one thing which is really important - it is time for the Lord to act. Later on in the Liturgy, in the middle of the Cherubic hymn which is sung at the point known as the Great Entrance, we sing the phrase ‘lay aside all the cares of this life’. Once again we have the sense that what is really important needs to be given space beyond the undercurrent of our own mental chatter. What can all this mean to someone who feels no connection with the language of religion, indeed someone who might feel quite alienated by religion? I think to me these particular moments are so important because they make it clear that we are not in control of what happens, that we do not grow in awareness by trying too hard to do things, to get things right, or by worrying about things which have gone wrong. There are always things which are going wrong with our lives and in the lives of others that we love - but in accepting that and letting go of our need to change and control external events we find the simple joy and truth of being present in the richness and fullness of the present moment. In contemporary secular mindfulness practice an emphasis is often placed on setting the intention. What is the inner intention behind our desire to practise mindfulness? Are we able to both see and to see through our desire to practise in order to achieve more control, more happiness, more wisdom for the ego? Are we able to find a deeper desire - to practise in order to let go? In the end, happiness and wisdom do not come from trying too hard, from what most people call success, from wanting things to be different from how they are. Rather from finding a practice which brings you more fully into the present. In old fashioned religion this was called the ‘practice of the presence of God’; in the even older language of the Buddhist sutras it was called satipatthana - the practice of mindfulness. When we sit and prepare to play the piano, whether it is just on our own at home or in a hall with an audience listening, we can learn from all this. If we set our intention to open up to receive then we at once move away from the idea that we are trying to achieve something. In response to this mental movement, our physical and emotional responses relax. This makes a huge difference to our ability to receive. It’s like tuning a traditional radio receiver to get rid of the crackle and interference. So often I see that this is the real key to people enjoying their piano playing more. The inner demons which assail people when they learn the piano are not so different from the inner demons in other areas of life. But somehow in this particular activity they can seem very exposed - especially when playing in front of someone else like a teacher! I have known an adult pupil tell me that they were anxious about practising at home in case someone heard them make a mistake while walking past on the other side of the street. And I have never had an adult pupil who hasn’t told me - usually in every single lesson - that they played the piece better when they were at home only a few hours or days ago. It is hard as a teacher to convince someone to let go. This becomes a warning to the teacher. The desire to persuade someone else to let go also has to be let go of. This is analogous to the realisation in meditation of the need to compassionately accept instead of fighting the wandering nature of the mind. When we sit at the piano and have the simple intention of receiving the sound rather than making something happen then we enter into a different space. This is the ‘time for the Lord to act’, the time to ‘lay aside all the cares of this life’, the time to be simply present in mindful awareness. When you have the privilege of attending a concert where the artist or artists are able to enter this space your experience as a listener will be qualitatively different from a concert where the artist or artists may dazzle you with their technique and control but do not take you any deeper. As a reflective exercise, think of the most memorable concerts you have ever been to and ask yourself what were the qualities that made it so memorable.