SILVER LININGS AND CELEBRATION IN MUSIC LESSONS
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
My mom used to tell me there was always a silver lining in every cloud. Not long ago during two years of holistic physical training, my trainer told me the same, and gave me an exercise to identify six times in my life when I was most miserable and most hurt, and draw a picture of each one using any medium, and on a large piece of art paper. I did. Then he asked me to think hard as to what was the eventual happy lesson I learned or some beneficial result that came out of that conflict or upset? The result could have been immediate, or years later. I learned some very helpful things during that "art therapy" exercise, and balanced out the negative feelings I had been left with at the time of each incident, with the silver lining that became apparent.
A significant silver lining came to me again not long ago concerning a particular piano lesson. A compendium of unfortunate things, both in ineffectively attempting to play a new piece (to which I was strongly emotionally attached) with the correct rhythm and tempo, and some of my teacher’s comments that I perceived as either abrupt or unfair, joined together and cascaded into a torrent of negative feelings. I felt physical pain in my heart and throughout my body, and I could not hold back my tears. I closed the lid of my piano, and both my teacher and I sat a moment in stunned silence.
Intuiting and seeing my distress, he asked if I would like to turn to another piece, but that was not the solution I needed or wanted at the time. At a minimum I needed a “time out” to identify and simply sit with my feelings, remember to show myself some compassion, and then discuss it with my teacher. I needed my teacher to just be with me in that moment, but not try to “fix” me or my technical problem, or divert my attention. I managed to ask a question about “inner voices” to fill out the remaining ten minutes of the lesson, but I was not really present for that discussion.
Afterwards I realized that neither one of us had been fully present for this lesson. We had been entirely “misattuned” from the start (it's a real thing in psychology: https://dictionary.apa.org/misattunement) and it struck me as completely out of the norm. Both of us failed to address the situation in an effective and compassionate way. Happens. And can be understood and the relationship repaired--if both teacher and student want the relationship to continue in a positive way, and are willing to take a few emotional risks to get there. We did, when a few days later at my request we spent an hour discussing what had happened and coming up with specifics to minimize the risk of same in the future.
Another silver lining came two days later when I realized more about the meaning of music in my life. I cannot play music from a place of distress; that is simply impossible. Music and the pieces I play for a teacher, for a friend, or just for myself as is mainly the case, are not amenable to being treated like pieces of meat or fungible objects. They are not just functional platforms on which to “work” to improve some aspect of technique. Yes, they become that in part, if I want to improve, but they are not that in whole. There is something larger going on for me when it comes to music, something more enveloping. It could have to do with my difficulty in separating out technique from musicality (a rather vague term in my mind and one I am currently researching to achieve a more complete understanding of what the term means). I find it tough to set musicality aside and just concentrate on raw, unadorned technique I need to improve or learn, a process which seems remote, alien, and as if I am objectifying music.
My feelings about dance and drawing differ. Fine art and dance, and classes in those, including critical feedback from my professors, do not open me up like music does. Music leads straight to my inner being and I feel completely exposed. I become tender. That is likely the reason that I feel I will never “perform” in public. All I do is “share” music with my partner at home, and very occasionally with a handful of friends over dinner.
It is not that I cannot bear critical feedback from someone who wants to help me reach my goals in pianism. I can! It is not that I fall apart (although I used to!) when I cannot immediately implement a new technique my teacher asks me to, or immediately name a note value; sometimes my brain or fingers become flustered and I have to take a bit of time to sort things out before I can give an answer, or practice during the week before I can perform my new "feat of piano wonder." In those moments of distress, I need to learn to more quickly speak up and call for a “time out” so that I can prepare my answer. That will help me remain in a balanced, calm, and receptive state amenable to learning. And my teacher needs to give that time to me without rushing forward. I suggested that I put a small antique “Southern Lady” brass dinner bell on the piano tray and ring it when I needed my teacher to slow down and listen. He felt it was a sterling idea, and we both laughed! (Humor helps a lot; a topic for a future blog!)
Two days after this challenging piano lesson, I awoke from a dream, reached for my dream journal on my nightstand, and wrote down a few sentences about music that came to me:
“”I’m not playing to get technically better; I’m playing to play. Music is my church. I come to worship and adore, not just learn tempo or rhythm or proper fingering. I come to celebrate.”
I come to celebrate!
Everything Put everything on the line as if life depended on it; play the way you breathe and move in action or as you sit. Inhale in, but exhale more and prepare what you wish to say; lift your thoughts as you lift your hands to the keys you’re going to play. Then worry not if a note or two “ghosts” or falls short or flat. Your goal is just to listen well then play from your habitat: “An array of resources,” so they say, “supporting survival and reproduction.” And so, your piano supports your life and weaves a dream well begun.
A TEACHER'S ROLE
A teacher’s role is wider than
just giving us effective methods.
It’s more to help us hear the tune
and understand the message,
then once heard and deeply felt,
they both will touch our heart,
and we know the reason to apply technique
with hope to create art.