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32. Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor from Book 2



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


Before the beginning of the Liturgy in the Orthodox Church there are a whole set of prayers and rituals (Proskomidia) which the priest presides over. They are a dedication of all that is to follow. They serve to ground the Liturgy in THIS place at THIS moment in time. Yet paradoxically they also serve to put the Liturgy into a much larger context by making connections to other dimensions - to angelic beings, and to family and friends who have already died. Before the beginning of every meditation a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner will dedicate the session by remembering the lineage of teachers. This connection to a wider dimension also serves to give both a particular and a universal relevance to the period of time which is to come. We might in a different context think of the preparations that a rugby player will go through before taking a penalty kick, the way a tennis player will bounce the ball repeatedly before serving, the way an archer will prepare every time before releasing the arrow. Musical performers vary as to their way of preparing to begin a concert. But there is no doubt that from an audience perspective it is possible to receive a strong sense of presence from a performer before a note is played. A performer who takes time to in some way dedicate the performance to come creates a bigger sense of space for the audience to inhabit. They will also thereby give the audience - both individually and collectively - time to dedicate this time in their own ways. (And simple as it sounds taking this preparation time is a radical act in the contemporary world where we are encouraged to think that there are only ten seconds to ‘grab someone’s attention’ before they move on to the next distraction.) Teaching also benefits from an act of dedication, however brief or simple. An acknowledgment that THIS time here and now is the most important time, that THIS person is the most important person. To anyone who has a base in a strong spiritual tradition this is maybe quite obvious - many traditions are used to using simple prayers or rituals before everyday activities. But there is a danger here too - such prayers or rituals can become so familiar that they become mere externalised words or actions without the inner content being experienced. Seeing this, the modern secular world will say that we have no need of such mumbo-jumbo. Very soon, we find the whole point and purpose of the dedication time has been forgotten altogether. So what is the whole purpose of the dedication time? It is like the purpose of taking deep breaths and counting to ten when angry. It is to enable the contemplative mind to emerge and the reactive mind to recede. It is to enable a deeper sense of presence to be realised. In the musical context, teaching a pupil to consciously breathe and wait a few seconds before beginning a concert or exam performance will make a real difference. And if you are going to teach it to your pupils then you first need to teach it to yourself. And you need to practise it yourself! I know from my own experience that meditating before practising the piano every morning makes a real difference to the quality of presence, the quality of aural attention to the sound, the quality of physical attention to the fingers and hand shapes, and the quality of intellectual attention to the musical structures. Good teaching, like good performance, needs a high quality of presence. Think of the minute before giving a lesson as a breathing space to connect to the flow of energy which can grow through and continue beyond the lesson in both you and your pupils. Endings are important as well of course. I have sometimes witnessed young performers so eager to get off the stage and out of the limelight that they cut the last note short and get up without acknowledging the audience at all! On the other hand those occasions where a pianist - or even a conductor with a full symphony orchestra - holds the silence after the last note of a performance and the audience collectively wait several seconds to applaud can be enormously powerful.