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25 Prelude and Fugue in C major from Book 2




MEMORIES AND FANTASIES RIGHT NOW                     Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

In one of the most paradoxical of Jesus’s teachings he says that it is only by losing yourself that you find yourself. Mystics and contemplatives through the centuries have expanded on this and in our own day there are many writers, of both religious and secular persuasions, that reassert the same fundamental wisdom. It is only by loosening our attachments that we can experience real freedom. Our attachments to possessions, to achievements, to other people, to tribal loyalties (football teams?), to religious loyalties, to ethnic identity, to the whole concept of self altogether. No wonder that it is so hard to loosen all those attachments, all those things which we spend at least the first half of our lives building up. Yet it is the moments - and for most of us it is only the odd moment here and there - in which we let everything go that we do indeed find ourselves at a deeper level. We find ourselves to be part of the continuous flow of energy that we call Life, or if we are used to using mystical language, cosmic consciousness. We find that there is in Ken Wilber’s words ‘no boundary’ between ‘me’ and everything else. We find ourselves by giving up all our attachments to false or partial selves and realising that we are part of the flow. ‘Go with the flow’ as Jesus might have put it in the contemporary idiom. Even the slowest piece of music has some flow to it. Even a single note is a vibration, a frequency where something is happening very many times a second. Even the lowest note on the piano is vibrating at something like 27.5 times per second whereas as pianists we are limited to playing something like 12 notes per second at full speed. To enter into a piece of music as a performer involves a lot of letting go. There are attachments to the visual representation of the music on the page - so often in teaching I have seen people lose their listening completely because they are focussed visually on the dots on the page. There are also attachments to eh position of the hands. Again and again I observe people arriving late on the ‘next’ phrase of music because one or both hands have been left behind, still holding on to something which has gone. more subtly than these examples are attachments to an idea of what the piece should sound like, maybe a memory of a particular recording. There are also attachments to the emotional resonances associated with a particular piece at a particular point in our personal history. (For me, the incredible power of the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony is made even stronger by the personal memory of listening to it on the radio as a teenager at the exact moment when my grandmother suffered a stroke in the next room. ) Only by letting go of all these various attachments will we open up the possibility of experiencing the flow of the music as it really is right now. When we go to a concert to listen there are also many attachments to let go of. Attachment to our expectations, to our memories of how we have heard this music before, to our projections about this particular performer, to how comfortable we are in our seat, to how organised we are about getting home afterwards. Only by letting go of all these will we open up the possibility of experiencing the flow of the music as it really is right now. There is no doubt in my experience that the quality of presence in the performers is the key thing which affects the quality of presence in the audience. When you have been at a concert with this sense of presence you will be amazed how short it all seemed, as if you had been transported beyond time and space. The language of mystical experience comes alive in such a musical experience even for people who have no background of reading mystical writers or any interest in religion. As a performer to an audience presence is the quality that you need above all else. However technically good a performance is it will not come alive to the audience if the performers are in effect playing from ‘memory’ rather than from presence. As a teacher presence is also the most valuable quality. Who are the teachers in your life, in any field, who have really received your attention and admiration? Which are the musical performances in your life that stand out the most? What is the thread that links these stand-out experiences together?