TO FIND A DEEP TRUE
JUST TRUST THE SOUND Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
There is a strong need in many people to intensify their experience of life, what we might call ‘ordinary’ or ‘mundane’ life. Ordinary life does not seem to be enough to satisfy the inner seeking for a more authentic experience. Often in the contemporary world this can lead people into destructive patterns of addiction, and there is general agreement that addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, video games or internet pornography are not positive states for anyone to be in. There is a very fine line though between the intention which leads to these addictions and that which leads to such apparently more acceptable things as endurance sports, religious rituals, caving, mountaineering - or maybe even playing PokemonGo! If the intention is to change the experience which is here-and-now into something which is somehow more intense, more valuable, more challenging, more worthy then there is always going to be an element of delusion, an element of trying to escape from what is actually happening. This seems to be at the heart of the dilemma of being human. We can see that on one level everything is present, here-and-now - and that all we need to do is to stop trying to change our experience; in other words accept our experience as it is. On the other hand we also know that on another level there is something which doesn’t feel right enough, deep enough or authentic enough about our present here-and-now experience. This is the part of the mental process that develops the intention to find an activity, an area or arena of action, where we might find what we feel is lacking. It is a common saying that there is a thin line between genius and madness. What I am suggesting here is an extension of this - there is a thin line between what are thought of as wholesome and unwholesome addictions and we can always have a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God…..’ Looking at the experience of playing the piano from this wider perspective we come to see the significance of our intention. Assuming we have practised well, if the intention is clear in our mind to create a particular balance of sound then the combination of our fingers and the instrument itself will produce that sound. If our intention is clear to convey a particular emotional resonance our fingers will find the touch needed to achieve that. If our intention is to convey emotional neutrality then our fingers will find the touch needed to achieve that. If our intention is to be open and receptive to what the music wants to reveal itself then that CAN happen - if we can get our ‘small selves’ or ‘ego selves’ out of the way and allow space for the bigger picture to emerge to reveal itself to the listener. The paradox is that the harder we ’try’ the more difficult it is to achieve. In teaching piano I have seen this time and time again - the one thing which makes more difference than anything else is to steer people away from the intention of trying too hard. Relax the mind, relax the intention, have a sense of receiving the sound for the first time and being open as to where it takes you. As a performer I experienced this very clearly once when playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The performance didn’t start at all to my satisfaction and for the first few minutes I was most definitely trying too hard. Suddenly there was a moment where I consciously let go of the trying and realised I could simply receive the music afresh. The result was a really special performance which the audience responded to very positively. To some people I’m sure this must sound improbably woolly and imprecise. But nothing I am saying here denies the necessity of a lot of practical repetition in the learning phase. It is this repetition which actually constitutes the physical mapping, the coordination of the two hands which will make the playing of the particular piece possible. The paradox of intention in playing the piano is not essentially different from the paradox of living in the human condition. To live happily we have to do a lot of disciplined work on our inner motivation before we can find a deeper sense of freedom, a freedom which in a sense only emerges when we throw the crutches away. At this point of throwing away, as pianists we realise that we don’t need to impose ‘our’ intention on the music at all. We become transmitters of the living language of music which we can trust to work at a deeper level of perception.