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37.  Prelude and Fugue in F sharp major from Book 2






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


In any form of inner growth exploration there is a shocking realisation that we are our own worst enemies. So often what prevents us from moving forwards is not primarily to do with other people or external circumstances at all but rather the demons in our own heads. Most of us are effectively more able to sabotage our best intentions and aspirations than anyone else is. There is a lot of power locked into the inner demons of self criticism, self limitation and self aggrandisement. Somehow we all need to find ways of working to convert this energy for more positive development. Otherwise what tends to happen is either suppression or projection. We either suppress the demons to the extent that we refuse to acknowledge their existence or else we project them outwards in a never-ending stream of scapegoating other people or institutions and externalising both blame and responsibility. This is vital work in playing and teaching the piano because the main obstacle to better playing is always a combination of inner demons. Fear of a difficult passage to come can often cause mistakes to happen in an easier passage beforehand. Why? Because as soon as you lose presence because of something in the future you are playing on autopilot. And although playing on autopilot may go well for a while it does not have the real intelligence to deal with the ever-changing circumstances of the actual present moment. Think of it like this - if you are walking along a flat pavement and there are few people around and you know exactly where you are going you will be fine on autopilot unless something really unexpected happens. But if you are walking in hills and there’s a swirling mist and you don’t know your bearings you will need to be much more acutely present in order to look after yourself and survive. Similarly on the piano. You can almost certainly play easy familiar pieces on autopilot but if you do so you are not training yourself to develop strategies for being more present when you are tackling something more demanding. It is not good ‘practice’. Good practice in playing the piano comes down to the same as good practice in walking, cooking, reading, conversing with friends or even using the computer - mindfulness and presence. But what about the demons? Well, the demons need to become part of our practice too. Sometimes in giving a lesson on the piano it is possible to point out a demon to someone - maybe a tense wrist, a locked jaw, a constriction of breath, an abiding sense of fear, an over excitement, an unnecessary intensity, an exaggerated detachment, a distracted mind- and almost immediately the person is able to understand what they need to do. At other times it can seem impossible to get through. I once taught someone whose response to any pointing out of ‘demons’ whatsoever was to start the piece all over again from the beginning and make all the same errors as before in an even more determined way. I was aware then that I lacked strategies to help this person break through this impasse, and indeed I think that much of my journey to find ways to break through has come from these sorts of experience. These reflections are not about prescribing solutions but about opening horizons so the following selection of journeys of exploration is for you to follow up as you will. Some journeys will be right for some people and not for others. To be more precise, some journeys will be right at this moment for some people. If something resonates with you in this way then follow it up. If something does not resonate then leave it alone. Preferably in a quiet way which doesn’t make value judgments and which leaves the way open to return at a later date. Enneagram Karen Webb, Helen Palmer, Richard Rohr, Sandra Maitri, Beatrice Chestnut Five Rhythms Gabrielle Roth Aramaic language Neil Douglas-Klotz Tibetan Buddhism Pema Chodreon, Tsultrim Allione Apophatic spirituality Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton In the end everything comes down to mindfulness. Know what is happening while it is happening whatever it is. Applying this to your piano playing makes more difference than anything else. A change in intention which comes from a change in presence makes a change in the sound. And remember - the music is always in the sound, not the dots on the page!