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  • Writer's picturerhapsodydmb


Updated: Feb 2

So far away from the stage to hear the inimitable Ms. Wang play

at the SF Symphony spring 2023, even in this closeup image!

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“Music...brings you in touch with the whole of life itself in a deeper way,” says cellist and Alexander Technique (“AT”)* teacher, Vivian Mackie (‘Just Play Naturally’, written as her answers to interview questions by another AT teacher, Joe Armstrong).

That’s one reason why the nature of the relationship between piano student and teacher becomes critical, and perhaps is the most critical element of learning -- especially for and by adult students.

While young learners may need discipline and the specifics about how to learn technique (pedagogy), adults need an ethos of safety, and facilitation of wider “hearing” and a greater connection with all sentient beings and art (andogony).

Enhancing my hearing is precisely one important reason I recently decided to have The Duchess downtuned to 432 Hz from the standard 440 Hz in order to see if the new keyboard pitch would help me hear music better, widen my musical horizons, and more easily balance my emotions during daunting political, and sometimes personal, days and times.

The intimate connection of piano lessons and life is one reason that the nature of discussions I engage in about music become critical not only to my learning, but either contribute to or take away from my great excitement, wonder, and bliss in rediscovering music just three short years ago.

There are a number of other ways that teaching adults and senior students differs from the learning paradigm suitable for young students. Mackie suspects that after graduating from college then pursuing three years studying with famed Spanish cellist Pablo Casals and working at such great depth, she not only deepened her already-considerable skills but also her capacity to feel and appreciate even more in daily life.

This is how I suspect we seniors, especially those of us in retirement with fewer years on the horizon than in the past, desire to spend our days if we are fortunate enough to have a measure of freedom from deep material worries. That is,

...we appreciate and want to explore and enhance the depth of our feelings, stretch our skills and mind, and peacefully share the wonders and blissful delights of continuing, never ending discovery, especially in the arts.

Mackie never left a cello lesson thinking “well that is that and now I go back to my normal life apart from lessons.”

She never thought “about playing as Art. It’s living! There’s blood in has to come from the bones, from down there where it may among the nerves...where it’s very very close to the core of you and exquisite agony is just round the corner! (does not have to be) something that’s reserved for the museum...or the pedestal and that only the elite are able to go and enjoy it...”

That’s one reason a few days ago I so enjoyed attending a very small venue with only about 12 others grouped casually around the performer and piano and not separated on a lower level from a stage or in rigid lines of seating in the small performance space, as would be in a concert hall. We listened to a lovely program of Romantic era music presented by Ian Scarfe, a local San Francisco pianist sponsored by Groupmuse, about which I wrote the prior blog. It brought art to me in a very close encounter, and made it feel like part of me, since I sat just five feet behind Ian.

Sometimes in the past as a newcomer to music and piano lessons, I have felt lonely. This event helped me feel part of the musical community also because Ian and the amicable host Brani, joined the audience afterwards at an informal reception, being quite accessible and approachable as musicians and human beings.

It is when we remove distancing barriers in relationships (be they new or continuing, or personal or professional ones) or barriers to access to the arts, that we permit a dissolution of self-ego and the possibility of understanding our human and universal connection to spirit. To this desirable end, piano performance and lessons can provide significant pathways.

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*If you are interested in learning more about this amazing technique, please visit my Alexander Technique teacher's website (Elyse Shafarman) and consider pursuing lessons with her in San Francisco.

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