I HEAR THE WA-TER FLOWING
AND I HEAR THE MU-SIC Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
Education (from the Latin e-ducare) means to draw out from. In other words, good education is not about putting knowledge into someone, but about drawing out the wisdom that is already there. How does this relate to teaching the piano? Firstly, think of the act of teaching as a wake-up call to yourself. A wake-up call to be in a space of good listening. A wake-up call to be fully present. One of the key things to observe is how mental tension leads to physical tension. If you can be aware of this in yourself it will inevitably help your own playing. But it will also give you a clue as to what you can see happening to your pupils. People tighten up physically in many different ways at the piano - some hunch their shoulders, some lock their jaw, some tighten the forearms or the wrists, some generate tension in the lower back. Behind all of these there will be some mental movement. Maybe a movement of fear as a difficult passage is coming up - maybe a block of dense black notes - or a change of key to A flat minor. Or maybe a movement of contentment, of feeling good that things are going well only to then stumble across something which is in fact much simpler. As in ‘Pride comes before a fall’. This is like the danger of thinking that you are meditating well - that very movement of the mind is itself fixing something as a solid experience rather than allowing it to be a dynamic process. To play the piano really well requires a clear intention to be fully present in the sound. The sound is continually changing like water flowing over a rock in the river. So to be present in the sound means to allow the sound to go. As soon as we hold onto the sound - as in thinking ‘I did that passage really well’ - then we have stopped being present. The deep wisdom of knowing that everything is changing, that everything is flow, that nothing is fixed, nothing is solid, is deep within us. It is something that we are born with. The ultimate meaning of education, then, is to help someone draw out from this natural wisdom which is hidden or dormant. One of the great joys of teaching the piano is to see in microcosm this process of awakening. When someone experiences a letting-go of ‘trying’ and a sense of real progress in the sound, this is the place of enlightenment, the place of joy for teacher and pupil alike. None of this can happen without the simple act of showing up. It is no good just waiting for the moment of inspiration for that may never arrive. We have to show up to practising regularly, and work on our intention regularly. We have to put in the time in faith that something will happen. It is like planting seeds in the garden in faith that somehow in the darkness of the earth transformation will happen and the plant will emerge into the daylight and grow. In this, learning the piano is very much like meditation. If we only practise once a week - maybe before we have a lesson - then we are not going to get the same opening up, the same transformation as if we practise every day. Even if the total amount of time is the same. Again, it is like the seed in the ground. Imagine if it was only light for one day a week - even if it was light for a full 24 hours that day, it would not compensate for the darkness the rest of the week. Showing up to practise sounds really simple - but what we are confronted with again and again is the inner critic, the inner distracter, the inner ego personality doing its best to fill our minds with excuses for moving our attention somewhere else. Learning the piano, then, is not so much about learning an external skill but about exploring and coming to terms with the internal landscape. Coming to feel at ease with both the demand to show up and practise, and the freedom to let go of chasing after a particular result. It is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily difficult at one and the same time.