The relationship between music teachers and their students is a particularly important one. At best it can nurture young people’s development both as a person and bring out the best of their talents as a musician. But what happens when boundaries are crossed and rules get broken?Continue reading Recovery from Abuse: Interview with Fiona Whelpton
One thing is certain – everything changes. But sometimes things can take longer than we hoped for, in stark contrast to the general pace of our lives today. Is it any wonder that we often feel impatient?
Perhaps there are obstacles that won’t shift from your pathway. Wounds that won’t heal…
… or simply a favourite piece of music that you would love to be able to play on the piano, but which somehow seems far out of your reach.
As qigong master Kam Chuen Lam explains, some things simply take time – and are all the better for it!
“All authentic growth takes time. So does healing and the process of deep strengthening. It is like giving birth.
In the more than thirty years that I have been teaching and treating people in the West, I have always had to tell people that nature takes time to form, nourish and give birth to new life.
I tell my students, ‘You can’t make a plant grow by tugging on it every day. You simply put it in good soil, give it just enough water and light, and let it grow. If you do that it will grow naturally. That is its nature’.”
Master Kam Chuen Lam
The Qigong Workbook for Anxiety
As guest author Kevin Pearson explains, learning to play an instrument is believed to make a significant difference to the player’s brain.
Musicians are truly special in the sense that they need skills that few others do. Because musicians need acute hearing, well-developed senses of pitch, rhythm, dynamics and timing as well as great control of small and large muscles that non-musicians rarely use (“small-muscle athletes” as Frank Wilson described it in his book Tone Deaf and All Thumbs) musicians develop neurological and morphological changes that can be beneficial not only when playing their instrument or listening to music, but also in other aspects of everyday life.
The writer Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) gave us these much treasured words:
“Come away from the din.
Come away to the quiet fields,
over which the great sky stretches,
and where, between us and the stars,
there lies but silence;
and there, in the stillness
let us listen to the voice
that is speaking within us.”
Whether speaking of the Divine, or perhaps our inner creative inspiration, these words represent a powerful call which we should and surely must heed on a regular basis.
For the school child, the busy professional or the highly active senior, the “Quiet Fields” could mean time spent at the piano.
For those of us whose work involves performing on or teaching the piano, the “Quiet Fields” are necessarily elsewhere.
But for all of us the imperative applies: we need time away from the daily grind to listen and to renew.
Interview by Guest Writer, Simon Reich
I have always thought that to be a well-regarded teacher in a particular area, you need to know the subject inside and out and be a proficient exponent of the subject and Mark Polishook is definitely one of those.
An ancient Daoist text “Principles of Nourishing Life and Cultivating Longevity” (recently translated by Eva Wong and included in within her book “Being Taoist“) includes the following simple advice:
“When you are young, don’t spend a lot of energy doing what everyone thinks is appropriate.
When you’ve reached maturity, don’t be too competitive.
When you’ve passed middle age, you should begin to find contentment.
When you are old, you should minimise desires.
Exercise the body gently to prevent it from stiffening, and entertain your mind leisurely to prevent it from deteriorating.
In this way you will enjoy a healthy and long life.”
There is of course no quick fix solution to avoid death, no elixir of life to sustain us indefinitely, and we know that once our energy is gone, the end will come.
But perhaps the above advice is useful when thinking about our own approach and lifestyle. We could all do with questioning what steps we are taking to enjoy a healthier and longer life.
Concert pianist and writer Charles Rosen (1927-2012) offers some interesting advice in his book “Piano Notes“
Do you agree with his conclusions?
“… any dogmatic system of teaching technique is pernicious. Most pianists, in fact, have to work to some extent in late adolescence to undo the effects of their early instruction and find an idiosyncratic method that suits them personally.
Not only the individual shape of the hand counts but even the whole corporal shape. That is why there is no optimum position for sitting at the piano, in spite of what many pedagogues think.”
Piano Notes – The Hidden World of the Pianist (2002)
I am delighted to publish a guest post from Frances Wilson, who blogs as The Cross-Eyed Pianist
Much has been written about the young French pianist Lucas Debargue, a finalist in the 2015 edition of the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition. The concept of him being “self-taught” (until relatively recently) has been debated across a number of articles, together with his rather unusual technique (“Scales played with only the thumb and index finger and his pinkie sticking up as daintily as Hyacinth Bucket’s” – The Spectator, 18/7/15) and glorious sound. He’s not out of the traditional mold of the international competition winner (commences piano studies at a young age, undertakes rigorous study with a master teacher and progresses to the “Three C’s” of Conservatoire, Competition and Concerto) – and he didn’t even wear a tie during the final!
Andrei Gavrilov is one of the world’s finest concert pianists, who has in recent years dedicated himself to giving master-classes to upcoming players around the world. So when he comments on the current state of music education and piano playing, it is certainly worth listening.
Some of his latest comments could prove controversial however. Mr. Gavrilov has provided a lengthy list of the “major mistakes” that he feels are “obstacles to artistic development”.
You can read his comments in full on the Cross-Eyed Pianist page here, but the overall impression he gives is that teachers and young pianists are neglecting artistic development, musical analysis and cultural understanding. He concludes that in four years of giving master-classes, he met:
“…nobody who could even be able to touch a single serious composition without destroying it in all senses.”
It is beyond doubt that Mr. Gavrilov’s robust observations offer genuine insight, but I feel sure that he is overstating his case. I personally know of many leading players and teachers who go out of their way to place music in its proper historical and cultural context. There is surely no shortage of upcoming players able to communicate great art with profound depth, with young artists like Benjamin Grosvenor, Daniil Trifonov, Igor Levitt, Jonathan Biss, Alice Sara Ott, Khatia Buniatishvili, Sunwook Kim, HJ Lim, Beatrice Rana, Conrad Tao, Louis Schwizgebel, Federico Colli and others firmly proving that point.
That said, Mr. Gavrilov is not the first, and nor is he alone, in expressing concerns about current trends in music education and performing.
Speaking to International Piano magazine (Jan/Feb 2014) the internationally revered pianist Maria João Pires suggested that it is the “competitive world” that has destroyed a lot of the transmission of our culture, and she sees a clear connection between piano competitions and marketing. She says:
“To compete always damages your soul. If you compete you are not a musician any more.
We old musicians should perhaps give the new generation alternatives. I think our mission is to transmit what has been transmitted to us. This competitive world, this marketing world, has destroyed a lot of that transmission.
Competitions are not the way, that’s for sure!”
Piano competitions have certainly come to dominate the commerce, marketing and performing culture of our time, especially for aspiring professional players. Given this context, is it really any wonder if teachers encourage competition participation and focus on the aspects of their students development most likely to turn them into “winners”?
According to Maria João Pires, competing “damages the soul”. This is one of the many issues that Pianodao will need to look at in more detail over the coming months. For now it is sufficient to note that for too many players, their experience even at an early age irrevocably equates performing with competition.
Some refuse to play at all in later life, even exhibiting significant anxiety reactions to any request to play in front of others. The field is thus left clear for the “winners” to scale ever greater heights of technical virtuosity, continuing their tour of the competition circuit in the hopes of making a reputation for themselves.
Whether or not Andrei Gavrilov’s concerns and those of Maria João Pires are connected, there is no doubt that Mr. Gavrilov has touched on important issues that pianists and teachers will want to ponder. It will certainly be very interesting to see how his colleagues around the world respond to his critique.
“Humanity grows more and more intelligent, yet there is clearly more trouble and less happiness daily.
How can this be so?
It is because intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom.”
Lao Tzu: Hua Hu Ching
translated Brian Walker
The big question for us all is this: what do we do with our knowledge?
Do we accumulate knowledge simply to “fight back”, to be “better” and more “successful” than the next person?
Or does our own self-improvement and development go hand in hand with generosity towards other people?
There are many possible responses, but it’s important to recognise the priority of wisdom over knowledge, because this leads to happiness and peace.