Back to top

36.  Prelude and Fugue in F minor from Book 2





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


I have taken part in many piano masterclasses and workshops and the experience can be really inspirational. However, at other times it can be quite deadly. The experience depends to a huge extent on the skills and awareness of the leader/teacher/facilitator. Not so much the instrumental skills but rather the skills that are involved in doing different things at the same time and in communicating with different people at the same time. At the beginning of a workshop, just like any sort of public meeting, most people beyond a very young age will tend to indulge in low level unfocussed chatter. (Observe for yourself when you next get an opportunity). The leader/teacher/facilitator then usually makes some signal for attention, the group falls silent, and then people all look to the leader/teacher/facilitator for instructions as to what happens next. One of the workshops I learnt most from was a percussion workshop with four leaders and around thirty participants. I remember my usual feelings of frustration that people were chattering away and also that none of the leaders seemed to be doing anything to indicate that we should be starting the workshop. Even one of the leaders seemed to be just playing his own drum at random instead of starting the session…….. But then suddenly I realised. He wasn’t playing his own drum at random - he was repeating a very specific pattern on his drum and looking intensely at people one by one around the circle until he found someone who understood that they should join in the same rhythm on THEIR drum. By the time I cottoned on there were about six people already playing, twenty four still chattering waway, not present to what was actually happening. Then soon afterwards there was a tipping point of consciousness - and within around a minute everyone was playing. The leader then switched to a different rhythm and indicated for half of the group to change to the new pattern. When two simultaneous rhythms were established and he was confident that the group understood what was happening he introduced a third and fourth rhythm indicating with arm movements who was to play the new rhythms. With four different rhythms all established we moved round the room playing our parts and experiencing the whole soundscape that was emerging- ever changing but from the same simple material. This was one of the most powerful teachings I have ever received - and not a word was spoken from beginning to end. In contrast, I have been to a masterclass where a great pianist has talked with immense authority about the fine details of a particular movement of a Beethoven sonata to one student - and totally ignored everyone else in the room. However, I have also been to a masterclasses where another great pianist has had the amazing ability to treat the one person playing as really special at the same time as addressing the entire group twenty or thirty people present and drawing out general musical points through practical illustrations and stories. The quality of the teaching in these group music situations is not to do with words or knowledge or technical ability. It is rather to do with presence and flexibility. Staying present with what is happening while it is happening, and staying with a spacious awareness of all the other people present too. Good teaching like this is priceless - we cannot measure teaching like this in terms of exam results but we can see its potential to open people’s awareness and transform people’s lives.