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  • Writer's picturerhapsodydmb


Updated: Jun 4, 2023

Reading the French word "complicite" (accent aigu) had a powerful impact on my understanding about the learning environment when it comes to piano lessons.

I may be drawing an analogy here that may or may not be fully applicable, but it is seems so. Not long ago I wrote an essay explaining how and when I arrive at feeling "like a person first" and not a "woman first" in the presence of a man. As I have believed and experienced for many years, For that miracle to happen, it comes thru me perceiving something that tells me that the man actually (or most likely) feels empathy for my life experience as a woman in a patriarchal society. He demonstrates that it is important to him to understand me, and he makes an effort to do so. I've only read this type of assertion in one other book, Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule. They quote one informant, a young female medical student, as saying "most people do not look at women as people, certainly not intellectual people." (p. 104).

This is analogous to what I desire in a piano lesson. I want to feel like a "person first" and not a "student first."

That's what I mean when I say I want a "peer" or a "partnership" relationship with any piano teacher. That's been called a part of "radical education" and authors of the book cited above say that educator Paulo Freire describes it as the teacher becoming a genuine "partner of the students, or a "student among students (Pedagogy of the Oppressed,1971, p. 62.

Thad Cahart wrote a book about his piano lessons and purchase adventures 20 years ago in Paris when he lived there and worked as a writer, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. He discusses a time when he went to see a master piano teacher teach a class. At one point the teacher began to play in tandem the very same piece or phrase as the student was playing. Perhaps this is common, but I have only seen it in one master class video.

Cahart explained that playing together puts teacher and student in perfect concurrence, and then "some remarkable chemistry builds." The student later told Cahart it was as if an energy radiated from the teacher's hands into theirs as they played.

What I think happens is that complicite (actually or psychologically) removes the "one up-one down" dominant-submissive barrier that sometimes or often exists between teacher and student, one that I have experienced. Only then can the student forget him or herself and focus solely on the music: hearing how it should sound inside oneself first then hearing it as one plays, adjusting touch and technique, and attending 100% to the matter at hand: playing expressively and credibly. I might call that some kind or element of "flow."

When a student is distracted by external things other than the above, to that extent the student cannot learn anything except:

(1) how to deal with/control/muscle into submission/grin and bear it/ or surmount distraction, or

(2) how to repeat or feel comfortable with distraction/teacher dominance in order to play.

The danger or risk is that distraction then becomes a habitual way of playing if there is an unsuitable teacher. One can always feel a bit "on guard" and never completely relaxed.

When I attended the interview and trial lesson with the Blue Bear School of Music teacher described in this blog, I "lost" my self consciousness when it came time for me to play. I was eager to do so at that moment and simply wanted to communicate something to him and outwardly express the love I feel for the Schumann piece/melody I was playing. And I saw or felt real joy in him in response to multiple things that transpired during our meeting. He seemed to be having fun along with me, too.

The above is what must happen (ideally) for me in any piano lesson what will be fruitful AND happy for me. I can get a bit of delicious fruit sometimes no matter the teacher's style, but the process to get it overall becomes bitter.

Carhart says the master teacher he chatted with said his hardest thing was to get the student to a still point, an emptiness where she can truly hear what she is doing. It's not an absence, it's a "still point" the teacher said. For music to flow out of the pianist there has to be a still center. The biggest obstacle the master teacher said, was fear.

My observation is that fear can come from many sources, not just from the student. If the teacher does not create a feeling of safety for the individual student in the learning process, nor a "one size fits all" to be sure, then student dis-ease will become disease and nothing will get learned except stress and caution. If the teacher does not relax and know that they don't know everything nor should be expected to, the teacher may become fearful and it will be sensed by the student, especially a discerning and sensitive one.

Brazilian Cellist and Alexander Technique Teacher Pedro de de Alcantara and I are attuned on the appropriate role of a teacher -- there is no such thing:

"We are all learning together" he says. Each of us might be learning or teaching something different, but in the end I agree with Alcantara that

"We are just collaborators."

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