As the words boomed along the station platform, I realised straight away that they were directed at me. I turned, looked up the platform towards a burly man in an official-looking hi-vis jacket and sheepishly gave him the thumbs up.
I had been momentarily transfixed in a meditation on the nature of fear.
Looking down at the rails I realised how easy it would be (having first checked there were no trains on the horizon) to step down from the platform, hop across the tracks and explore the beautiful verge that faced me on the other side.
And yet I would never, ever actually do so.
A self-preservatory terror of the rails had been instilled into me decades ago by my mother. My guess is that most of the passengers waiting on the platform would feel something of the same fear.
When movie heroes leap onto the tracks, we regard it as derring-do, suitably convinced of the huge risks involved. Meanwhile we ignore the thought that ordinary Network Rail employees routinely mosey around the rail infrastructure on a daily basis without being vaporised on the job.
Most of us rarely question the fears or values that were instilled in us at a young age. But perhaps we should do.
The Perils of Pianism
When it comes to piano playing, the dangers are not as grave as being electrocuted or instantaneously squished.
But some players tell me with such certainty that they will never play in front of another person that I am similarly left wondering about the true source of their fear.
Does it really make sense to believe that we mustn’t ever play the piano for supportive listeners, or that such a move would inevitably lead to judgment and despair? I think not.
At the adult piano club I run, most of the players will experience some level of performance anxiety. They seem to find it helpful to discuss the process with each other, and it’s interesting to hear their various stories, reflections and solutions.
Often the root problem is located in a single thought, carelessly expressed to them as children, but which later came to dominate their thinking to a point where the alternatives, however obvious, seemed ridiculous…
Raindrops Keep Falling…
I remember as a teenager playing the Raindrop Prelude one year in a local Music Festival. Afterwards the mother of the “winner” hit me with the devious take-down:
“You’re a promising pianist, young man”…
… she said, sweetly. Why, thank you!
“…but you haven’t got the right touch for Chopin”.
The following year I played Liszt (and won). Over subsequent decades I’ve very rarely performed Chopin again.
Words have astonishing power. Whether malicious or simply thoughtless they ooze power when they drip from our mouths, and they wield that power as they bury themselves as seedlings in our souls, germinating and forming the tangled weeds that bind us and inhibit our growth.
Words can keep us from falling off platforms, but they can also keep us from falling in love.
Some of the words we hear as children are realistic, compassionate and hugely important; others are more arbitrary. We take to heart those which make the biggest emotional impact at the time.
Is it rational to believe that there is a mysterious, inaccessible “right touch” without which Chopin’s music sounds offensive?
Again, I think not. But it is perhaps only with mature reflection that we can untangle the knots of our most misconceived fears, and allow the truth to set us free.