Back to top

43.  Prelude and Fugue in A major from Book 2





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

To many of us, demons are seen as things to fight and destroy. Much of the Western spiritual tradition has been interpreted along this way of thinking with images such as that of St George killing the dragon. We might also think of the long history of ascetical attitudes towards sexuality. But to many others in the contemporary Western world demons are probably seen as unreal and not worthy of our attention. But it is not difficult for all of us to see many things wrong with the world around us so let us for the sake of this exploration acknowledge the reality of demons. There are external demons as manifested in the corruption of institutions as varied as multinational companies, political parties and churches. There are inner demons which are so powerful that an increasing number of people are self-harming or developing addictions. Our media, and perhaps especially our social media, is full of people writing (often ranting) about things which need to be changed. Whatever your view on anything it is really not difficult to find someone who passionately thinks the polar opposite. And so we inhabit a somewhat schizophrenic society where there is a ‘war’ on terror, a ‘war’ on drugs, a ‘war’ on poverty even while policies have been pursued for many years by different governments which have made us collectively more and more hooked into greed, anxiety and delusion. There IS an alternative. In the West ideas of the shadow and the unconscious have been famously explored by Carl Jung and Aldous Huxley among others. But I want to focus here on the wisdom traditions of Tibet. Here we see a path where we realise that we actually need to make friends with our demons, that all the demons which we imagine to be external and solid are in reality internal and fluid. By making friends with our inner demons we can experience their transformation into our helpers or allies. The shadow side, the dark side of our inner experience, is there for a reason. We need to experience the shadow, the darkness, because it alone contains the potential energy of transformation. This Tibetan wisdom tradition has been beautifully and movingly translated into a form accessible by modern Westerners by Tsultrim Allione whose work I highly recommend. But in our own tradition, the temptations of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (4.6) also show clearly this necessity of befriending and transforming our inner demons, not fighting them in the external world. Turn stones into bread In modern terms.......Be successful now. Impress others. Do something which is relevant. Save the world - right now! OR..... see the need to transform/dissolve the internal solidity of the stones (hard-heartedness) with the bread (fluidity) of breathing and compassion. Throw yourself off the mountain and I will catch you In modern terms ..........Play righteousness games. Pretend that you have some special insight which others don’t. OR...... test the inner reality of our mind’s content, not the external authority. Bow down before me and I will give you everything you want In modern terms.......... Appease the systems of this world. Go along with what is needed to get on in the ‘real’ world and you will be rewarded. OR..... Don’t bow down before any external authority but trust the transformation to take place internally not externally. When we teach the piano we soon become aware of the reality of inner demons. There are firstly our own demons - of self-doubt, self- denial, self-glory, self-promotion, self-contempt. All need to be acknowledged and transformed into allies which help us communicate more clearly and honestly. Then there are the demons we become aware of in our pupils. It is very rarely a physical difficulty that prevents someone progressing further on the piano; much more often it is a mental tightening which leads to a physical tightening which then creates a perceived physical difficulty. Pupils’ inner demons are of course much the same as our own. Self-doubt is very common, especially when playing in front of someone else. There are many exercises which will help a pupil become more grounded in their body and less likely to spin off into self doubt - feeling the weight of their feet on the ground, feeling the breath coming from the diaphragm, hunching and releasing the shoulders, slowly moving the neck from side to side and forwards and backwards. But the first step is to make ‘friends’ with the fact that the self-doubt is present. It is just a perfectly normal part of human experience, not something to eliminate but something to get to know. Self-confidence can also sometimes be a mask for fear of anything new. I have taught teenage boys who can play certain pieces so brilliantly and are acclaimed as outstanding by their peer group but who are quite terrified of trying anything new or different in case a similar level of success is not forthcoming. Again, this ‘demon’ has to be befriended as a normal part of youthful (especially male) experience. Another demon that manifests in pupils is that of self-denial. The sort of pupil who may work through grade after grade of music examinations to please their parents and teacher and who never question their own relationship with the process. This is a hard demon for a teacher to see because it may appear externally that all is progressing really well and the teacher is being praised as well as the pupil. But the goal in teaching can always be something much wider and deeper than that of attaining external achievements - and it is clear to me after more than thirty years of teaching piano that everyone knows this at some level! The real joy and inner transformation that can be found from playing the piano is not something that can be taught in terms of external benchmarks but it is something which a good teacher can nurture. Think of it as planting seeds - some of them will flourish and grow into plants in their own right. The goal for the teacher can be like that for the parent - to be there when needed, but to avoid getting in the way when self-knowledge is developing.