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26. Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 2



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

One-to-one teaching can be so much more than the passing on of techniques and knowledge. The opportunity is there to open up to a wider sense of consciousness. The relationship between mind and body revealed very closely in teaching piano. So often what appears to be the difficulty is not really the difficulty at all. What appears to be a difficulty for the body - coordinating different combinations of fingers together - has to be tracked back to what is happening in the mind. Any tightening in the mind, any thought which is present explaining that this next passage is difficult, any appearance of the inner critic saying that this is not good enough, any solidifying of the experience - all these have a direct physical consequence. The muscles tighten and the physical coordination needed to play a particular passage is made more difficult to achieve. Seeing the close link between mental demons and the creation of physical tension gives the teacher a way in to open the student to a wider vision of consciousness. A simple image here is that of a flower gradually opening to receive the light. The pianist has to open gradually to receive the music. This is very different from any idea of ‘doing’ something or ‘making’ the music happen. It is more like thinking on a cloudy day, ‘OK - the sun is still there behind the clouds’. I can open up to receive this bigger energy which is coming from beyond what I can see. In approaching a new piece on the piano, have the idea of the music being behind the notes. The notes on the page are like the clouds in the sky; the music has to be trusted in, it has to be received from ‘behind’ the notes. It is not something to be forced, not even something to ‘do’, but rather something to receive. If enlightenment is understood as the realisation of the truth that everything is connected and ultimately united then any path or practice can be used as a vehicle to make the journey towards enlightenment. Teaching and practising the piano is one such journey. Its advantage is that it makes the mind/body connection very clear. It is a journey where sudden insights and disciplined work go hand in hand, a practise where there are rewards on many different levels. Some traditions envisage enlightenment being somewhere in the indefinite future, completely out of reach in terms of present consciousness. Fortunately some traditions see things differently - mystical Christianity, Sufism and Tibetan Buddhism all have an understanding that the experience of non-duality, the becoming-at-one in love is not something for the future but something for the present. The realisation of Buddha-mind and the Kingdom of God are not for some distant time and space, they are for here and now. This is not to say that we will be experiencing them very often. Rather to say that the possibility of experiencing them is always present. To return to our teaching and practising - if we open up to a bigger awareness of consciousness in both ourselves and our pupils we are enhancing the possibilities of breakthrough moments. When music is received from ‘behind’ the notes, when there is an experience of unity between performer and performed, then there is a direct experience, however brief, of the way things actually are. Having this experience even once is sufficient to change someone’s perspective of what is possible. To illustrate this, I share a personal anecdote. I only started teaching piano because of a chance encounter with someone whose name I don’t even remember and whom I never saw again. I was staying with a friend in Germany and we drove out together into the forest to a house where this person lived. While he was doing some business with my friend I played the piano that was sitting there in an adjacent room. After they had concluded their business, the person came through and said : ‘You should be teaching the piano’. That’s all I remember. But I know that when I returned from Germany I put up a few notices about giving piano lessons - and here I am thirty-eight years later still teaching. I am so thankful for this person that I don’t know at all but who clearly heard something and had the courage and clarity to speak. Everything in this book is a part of the fruits of that extraordinary moment.