SOUNDS AS THEY-
CHANGE ALL SUP-
MINDFULNESS Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
The practice of mindfulness is both very old and very new in human consciousness and experience. Very old in that long before any modern religions developed - only within the last five thousand years - it is clear that people were practising mindfulness. Hunters and gatherers, nomadic people, people from the Arctic to the tropical rainforest, from the savannah to the desert. Mindfulness - being aware of what is happening while it is happening - was essential for survival. It has only been in more modern times, in what are commonly called more ‘civilised’ societies, that survival has NOT been so dependent on the cultivation of mindfulness. Yet in our contemporary Western society there is no doubt that mindfulness also has a very new dimension. Short courses in mindfulness are now available everywhere as more and more people learn something of the cost of our modern high-tech left brain dominated culture and how the practice of mindfulness can help to restore some balance and sanity. Most meditation practices depend on some sort of support or anchor, something to which the attention returns every time it wanders off. One of the meditation supports is a simple awareness of sound - sound arising, sound remaining, sound ceasing, particular sounds morphing into other sounds. Mindfulness practice increase your awareness of sounds that are actually here and now just as the traditional hunter would have been acutely aware of what sounds were actually present and what they would mean in terms of the presence of animals. We are now only just beginning to understand how important this awareness of sound is even for living creatures in the depths of the ocean - and how easily their survival is being threatened by the extraneous noise of ships above. John Cage’s notorious composition 4’33” - the so-called ‘silent’ piece - has been ridiculed by many people. But in some ways it is one of the most important musical works of the twentieth century because it makes us listen with much greater attention than is usual. It takes us into a mindful space where our ears are more open and our perennial left-brain analysis is quietened down. Seeing the piece performed live, in all of its three short movements, is an experience which can teach us how we might approach our own music making, whether performance, group work rehearsing, or solo practising. In my experience practising piano immediately after meditating makes this sort of awareness much easier to attain. Being aware of the arising of each sound, the morphing of each sound into another sound, the intensity of each sound, the tone colour of each sound, and the decay of each sound - all this is very much like putting a mirror to the use of sound as a mindfulness support in meditation. Attention to this whole constantly changing process means that our attention is present, and the constant change frees us from the need to fix our attention on one point rather than another. The experience of playing through an entire piece in this state of presence is that there is no effort required. When we contrast this with all the times we were told in life to make more effort, to try harder, we can see how absurd our ‘normal’ ways of thinking are. Every time we suggest to someone else that they should ‘try harder’ we are directing them AWAY from mindfulness. Every time we bring people’s attention in practising back to the actual here-and-now sound we are encouraging them TOWARDS mindfulness. In most pieces that we learn at the piano there are one or two passages which we continue to think of as ‘difficult’. And usually we manifest physical reactions to our fear of the difficulty just as we might do if suddenly put into a hunting situation where we have to work out how to survive in the presence of a wild and potentially dangerous animal. if we can stay really present we realise that the fear comes and goes, the physical manifestations of fear come and go, and that all we need to do is to stay present. Good piano practise is good mindfulness practise. And developing a good mindfulness practice will help you to develop deeper and ultimately more productive ways of practising the piano.