My wife Louise and I have just returned from a wonderful, refreshing break in Moniaive, a peaceful and super-friendly village near Dumfries in the Scottish borders.
Travelling can remind us that in every place, people find their own flow, submitting to a silently agreed pace of life, and following an unwritten code of communal mores.
I think it would be more than a little daft – if not rather arrogant – to adopt hard concepts of how life must be lived when faced with the rich but convincingly varied testimony of shared lives and values found throughout humanity’s multiplicity of communities: the deep impact of society and geography, of time and place, is surely as indelible as it is undeniable.
Our own time in Moniaive was spent exploring the simply gorgeous countryside, traversing fields and climbing hills, visiting small arts exhibitions, tea rooms, and local hostelries. There was time to fit in some qigong practice, which surely benefited from the fresh, energetic air and bubbling stream at the back of the cottage.
We were joined for a couple of days by our daughter Ruth, a talented young artist, and her partner Ollie and friend Desiree. Jovial evenings were spent adding logs to the open fire while we chatted about life, the universe, and everything. All lubricated, of course, with tea, fine wine and whiskey!
On the third day we decided to walk from our secluded cottage in the forest to Moniaive, planning to meet an old friend there for tea. The sign at the gate into the field said, “Moniaive, 2 miles”, but should really have included, “Some mountaineering experience would be an advantage”.
None of us are getting any younger, and I will confess that I found the trek a mild challenge. But as my family remind me, how important it is that we sometimes break out of our comfort zone and rise to fresh challenges!
It would be easy, returning to Milton Keynes, to revert to the predictable comforts and mundane routines which measure my days as a teacher and writer. Indeed, it is likely that, though every experience changes us, my life will continue with only minimal change.
How sad it would be, however, to pass by this opportunity to reflect on “the what and the why” of my comfort zone.
Indeed, are our comfort zones really any more than our own artifice, a self-imposed prison of our own making?
In many places around the world, others too are returning from summer holidays, looking forward to a new “academic year”, while contemplating the imminent enjoyment of the harvest time, cozy autumn evenings, and the inexorable drift towards Christmas.
Shall we agree that, as pianists and teachers, our own shared ethos in the coming season will be one of adventure, creative rule-breaking and thinking outside of the box?
• The devoted classical player might try playing some jazz arrangements, or boogie…
• The amateur who enjoys playing “for fun” could take on a more serious, meaty challenge…
• The teacher could try a new approach, venturing beyond their established lesson routines.
• The student could try following their teacher’s advice for a change!
The glorious views of Moniaive and it’s surrounding hills, forests and valleys more than justified the steep inclines, uneasy map reading and navigation involved on our country walk. Our journeys of creative exploration at the piano have the potential to be every bit as magnificent.
Wouldn’t it be great if, bound together by mutual support and a spirit of enquiry, we could take our piano journeys far beyond the shackles of our previously inhabited comfort zones this season!
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