The Pianist’s Limits

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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Some years ago, a highly successful man from the world of finance approached me for lessons. Essentially a beginner, he had previously tried a few lessons with another teacher locally, and I asked him why it hadn’t worked out.

His explanation amounted to a cautionary tale:

“I told her that I was only interested in learning Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, but she insisted on trying to teach me dull Grade 1 pieces. I had no interest in learning them, felt unmotivated and annoyed, and made no progress.”

Naturally I tried to explain (as undoubtedly the previous teacher had) that the Tempest is an incredibly difficult work, requiring a range of highly advanced musical and technical skills. It is possible to admire and be inspired by the achievements of the world’s greatest players while enjoying working at our own level.

Alas, he was not for turning, and within a short time the lessons stopped, my name presumably added to the list of stubborn failures who had been unable to teleport him directly into the Tempest without his needing to follow in the footsteps of those pianists who have previously made the journey with success.

Teaching with a sense of structured progression and an underlying curriculum is not a matter of professional hubris or a money-spinning scam; it is the means by which learners can progress towards their goals, realising their potential. It is an act of generosity.

Nor is it negative, lacking in faith or discouraging to recognise that as players we all have our limitations. On the contrary: it is foolish, arrogant and self-defeating to think otherwise. For a start, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Deng Ming-Dao reminds us,

“Every river has its banks,
Every ocean has its shores.”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations, Harper Collins

Continue reading The Pianist’s Limits

The Pianist’s Self-Care

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
setting our piano journey in its living context.


At the time of writing, most of us are feeling uneasy. We are, after all, in the midst of a global pandemic, concerned for ourselves, our loved ones, our finances, and fearful of what our world might be like in a few months time.

But as we spend more time away from our usual routines, we might also discover a deeper unease. A rock has plunged into the pool of our lives. The ripples are still clearing, and a lot of mud has been churned up. As the waters settle again, we are coming to see things that were perhaps unclear to us before.

As pianists we might hope to see glimpses of answers to life’s most profound questions sat before our piano, absorbed in our playing. And certainly, as I’ve written here before, piano playing can provide a sanctuary from all else that is unfolding around us.

But while some presently find they can use their piano playing as an escape from grim news, many others are experiencing frustration at their lack of motivation, focus and inspiration.

In this entry to The Pianist’s Reflections Series I will consider some basic elements of self-care from a Daoist (Taoist) perspective in the hope that readers will find some helpful suggestions, and that each of us can enjoy a piano journey that reflects an easier, more connected and settled experience of life.

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Lingering Awhile with Friends

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
setting our piano journey in its living context.


“Morning rain in Wencheng dampens rising dust.
Sprouting willows colour the guest house green.
Sir, let us drain another cup of wine.
Once you’re west of Yang Gate, you’ll have no friends.”

Seeing Yuan Er off on a mission to Anxi, Wang Wei (699-759)
translated Deng Ming-Dao, Each Journey Begins with a Single Step (2018)


This simple, if somewhat oblique verse has been bearing down on my thoughts in recent weeks. Ever since encountering it, it has stuck in my mind as a salient reminder of the importance of cultivating lasting relationships and savouring friendships.

It is also, in context, a poem about journeying. The writer entreats his travelling friend to wait awhile before taking the next step, not simply because it is wise to be circumspect, but because the security of the present moment provides the best launchpad into the uncertainty of the next.

Many will be starting out in new jobs, classes and projects as we enter a new season. We may, or may not, have friends lined up as travelling companions.

Soon there will be change, bringing fresh challenges, adventures and new faces into our daily lives. But for today, it’s important to treasure the friendships we have.

For those enjoying a holiday this month, I hope you will have a refreshing and relaxed time in the company of those close to you. I hope that you will linger in special moments, and craft wonderful memories that will strengthen you for the future and add incredible value to your life.

I have to confess that I too often rush my “goodbyes”, impatient for the next moment. But life does not comprise next moments; it is made up of the present ones. Let’s take time to enjoy them, and treasure our time with friends!

Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to the metaphorical link between this verse and our piano playing…

There will always be new repertoire to explore, including the latest compositions we’ve discovered as well as the manifold treasures of the keyboard literature from generations past…

But there’s really no hurry. So before stepping into new territory, remember to spend time with familiar favourites: the Active Repertoire with which you can relax, express and enjoy yourself.

As in life, so too in our piano playing,
let’s take time to linger awhile with our old friends.


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Information Overload

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
setting our piano journey in its living context.


“Be like the explorers of old. What they acquired for themselves will always surpass those who merely read about their exploits.”

Deng Ming-Dao: 365 Tao Daily Meditations (199)


Do you often get to the end of a day feeling exhausted from sheer information overload?

It’s a contemporary phenomenon which seems to be part-and-parcel with the internet age. We feel this way whenever we receive more information than we can realistically process and internalise.

We are bombarded daily with information that ranges from the useless – such as Instagram pictures of what a friend eat for breakfast – to the academic (sometimes interesting, but often offering little possibility for application).

And then there’s the depressing 24/7 news cycle, that too often leaves us feeling anxious and bewildered rather than informed.

When the quest for an encyclopaedic knowledge, cutting-edge insight, and a full understanding (however noble these are) leaves us feeling worn out, it’s time to step back, take a break, and learn to be kinder to ourselves.

Simply put, it takes time for us to properly process all this information – or else it will anyway just go to waste!

The trick, it seems to me, is to focus on processing the most useful information:

  • information about people, subjects and music we genuinely care about;
  • information we can put to practical use;
  • information gleaned from our senses and experiences;
  • information which feeds or arises from reflection.

Instead of leading to fatigue, such information can open doorways, bring joy, excitement and a sense of playful adventure! 

And often, as we take care to be more balanced in our consumption, we will find that the information we actually need is more manageable than we previously thought…

In the picture of the overloaded bookshelf above, there’s actually only 14 different books – count them! Not so scary after all!


The PIANODAO website features 600+ FREE ARTICLES and REVIEWS.
The blog exists thanks to generous DONATIONS from readers like you.
Regular supporters are welcome to join the TEA ROOM COMMUNITY.


The Lunar Tao

QIGONG FOR PIANO PLAYERS
breathing & stretching exercises for healthy practice & living.


QIGONG RESOURCES

Regular readers will have seen that I sometimes quote from the contemporary Daoist (Taoist) author Deng Ming-Dao, and as we rapidly approach the Chinese New Year it gives me pleasure to recommend his recent book “The Lunar Tao”, published by Harper-Collins in 2013.

According to the publishers:

“The lunar calendar is a main pillar of Chinese culture, encompassing many stories and festivals. Deng Ming-Dao looks to the lunar calendar and highlights where these festivals and stories coincide with Taoism, giving readers a renewed and original way into this ancient philosophy.

Each day of the lunar year is represented with a reading meditation, original translations, illustrations and illuminating facts about festivals and traditions, providing readers with the context that gives Taoism such depth and resonance.”

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