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"Small, tender gestures remind us that we are not helpless, even in the face of grave human suffering. We maintain the ability, even in the dark of night, to find our way to one another. We need this, especially now."

The speaker is Rabbi Sharon Brous; she is the founding and senior rabbi of Ikar, a Jewish community based in Los Angeles, and the author of “The Amen Effect.” I happened upon an amazing article by her in my Sunday February 10 New York Times.

Certainly she is considering the present state of war and social and political "justice" or lack thereof, around the world.

But what one person considers a personal tragedy and from which they suffer, of course differs from one individual to another, from one social or political circumstance to another, and from one mindset to another as we remember past incidences or experiences that confounded us or created feelings of suffering.

Those experiences can include piano lessons and what happens in them. I have written a few former blogs dealing with my distressing experiences since mid-2020, both during lessons or in the parting.

The problem with suffering from any cause or circumstance, is that it can get locked inside both our brain but also in our body and spirit and continue to fester until we resolve it on both bases.

For some suffering, it takes more than rational thinking to unlock the answer(s) to how one "gets over and on with it" after an unpleasant experience.

According to the rabbi (and also my talk therapist), seeking out others to simply listen, acknowledge, and share our suffering in the moment, is one such answer. Words may or may not be offered, or needed. But first showing up and listening are required. A ready diagnoses by others, or negative self-talk, are not apropos.

In our Western culture, women are particularly good at showing up for their friends and spouses. We women are rewarded in a patriarchal society for listening, but not much for speaking up or out about what we need or want. Goddess forgive, if we ever express anger or even pique.

When we voice suffering in the nature of a physical illness, it is often discounted or belittled. Regarding things we need to solve at work or in relationships, it's rather much a well known (to women!) that men usually "want to fix us" rather than just sit still and listen and witness our sorrow or dilemma. Often women seek out women friends above men with whom they are involved in any kind of relationship, in order to "trouble talk" as it has been called (I cannot recollect the writer who initially came up with this concept and will credit her when I find her). One of the things I most value in my 22-year relationship with my life partner, a cisman, is that he is extremely talented in just listening to me kvetch, or celebrate. I can't remember now if he came that way, or was gently simmered to perfection in that talent during our long relationship.

A piano teacher who would be effective with me, upon seeing frustration express itself in my body or hearing it in my words, would just "show up for me." They would be willing to witness and acknowledge how I was suffering, and how common that is for other students. It would not take telling me as one teacher did, that they "suffer the same thing but at their level." What gall (and failure of empathy) it took to say that~rather than note how quickly I, an individual student, had learned to do this or that, compared to my past!

It would certainly take more than just one "showing up", at least for me, because normally more than once with any given teacher, I physically and verbally express my emotions, both good one worthy of celebration, and distressing ones worthy of just being heard, without more.

I imagine some teachers would prefer to teach a robot.

In fact, there is an interesting new study posted for online students recently by Julliard Professor Noa Kageyama, that supports the above idea.

The study reveals that piano teachers define "a creative student" using words that imply or state "discipline, calm, balance, and agreement with the teacher." Isn't that interesting! They think they are in fact, supporting "creative students"!

Normally in general parlance, a creative student or person is seen to be the opposite: somewhat disruptive, sometimes or often going her own way, expressing independence, coming up with novel ideas aout how to solve a problem or puzzle, and being experimental. Yet these are behaviors that sometimes interrupt a lesson plan and can admittedly make a teacher's job harder, not easier!

Thus, Noa suggests that an instrumental teacher needs to be flexible and accepting with creative students (evidencing the so-called "negative" behaviors of such types or personalities), and consider their own personal definitions that might be punishing creativity in their students!

I'm reminded of at least one of my teachers in the past who could not seem to accept or easily tolerate my occasional expressions of frustration. I would for a few seconds verbalize frustration (and might swear!) and at the same time put my head down on the fall board to rest, and then pop right back up to try again. The teacher interpreted that, as they said, as "resisting" or taking a point of exception to what they were asking me to do or try.

Whether or not I expressed negative, or any feelings more than other students, I can't say, but that's not relevant. What I needed in the moments of frustration and self-disappointment, was a simple witnessing and empathy from my teacher, and not rushing me forward toward being productive -- in that moment.

The Rabbi says that many people are uncomfortable with expressions of negative emotions.


But teachers are asking us to change behaviors and grow, right? In agreeing to teach, they don't always get individual students who are always calm and collected.

In other words, they don't get robots for students -- at least not yet, but then we don't know where this rush to adopt AI will end.

In the meantime, I'm with the Rabbi:

"Ultimately, it is only by finding our way to one another

that we will begin to heal."


(If you have had a distressing experience with a piano teacher, I'm empathetic, and interested in knowing why it occurred and how you addressed it. If you resonate with this blog, kindly sign our confidential publication notice list and please give us a star rating, both at the top of this page.)


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