Piano Reflections with Lao Tzu

A couple of weeks ago I introduced readers to a feature I have added within the Pianodao Tea Room community: The Daily Dao.

If you haven’t yet joined the Pianodao Tea Room you are of course welcome to do so, but for this one time, I’m going to reproduce below the Daily Dao posts from the first week.

Each week, I select a “source” from which quotes are drawn, one per day with reflective and discussion questions. I have reproduced the first week below, and hope that you find these reflections helpful and thought-provoking.

The selected source for that first week was the Daoist classic Tao Te Ching by the great sage Lao Tzu. In the questions for reflection and discussion, these texts were applied directly to our lives as piano players and teachers.

In the second week, the selected source was Charles Rosen’s classic book Piano Notes. Those quotes and reflections will remain accessible on the Pianodao Tea Room community page.

And next week, the selected source is Mindfulness in Music by Mark Tanner, which I have previously reviewed here.

In the Tea Room, many of the questions and reflections led to interesting and supportive discussions between members; those comments are of course exclusive to that community, so once again, do come and join us if you are interested. From the reflections below, you will realise the Tea Room is not simply another Facebook group!

In the meantime, here verbatim are the six posts which made up the Daily Dao in the week beginning Monday August 10th 2020.

Continue reading Piano Reflections with Lao Tzu

The Pianist’s Self-Care

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

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.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Self-Care

The Pianist’s Imperfection

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

Recently, my wife Louise had a minor kitchen accident which resulted in her breaking my favourite tea cup.

As she tells the story (on her social media):

“So I broke Andrew’s favourite teacup.
I felt I should make him a new one in pottery.
It lists a little bit but it works!
Andrew said that it’s the best thing that anyone has given him. He then went on to say that most people would’ve given up and started again once they noticed the listing.
Clearly I’m not most people!”

As you can see from the photo above, my new cup is a thing of great beauty! But as Louise admits, it’s hardly perfect from a functional point of view. The “listing” perhaps doesn’t look serious, but when pouring tea into the cup it’s quite obvious that when one side is full to the brim, the other side is only two-thirds full.

There’s another problem too. Inside the cup, there are quirky recesses that somehow trap the tea, making it impossible to empty the cup when drinking from it in a genteel, civilised manner. Only tipping it upside down really does the trick!


Here, for comparison, is a cup that has none of these issues:


A bit boring, right?

The beauty of my new mug is in its imperfection: its quirkiness, vibrant personality, its energy. And central to all that, the fact that it was borne of relationship, made with love.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Imperfection

The Art of Piano Pedagogy

Pathways for Teaching

The great Russian pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus (who taught such legendary classical pianists as Radu Lupu, Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels) wrote:

“I consider that one of the main tasks of a teacher is to ensure as quickly and as thoroughly as possible that he is no longer necessary to the pupil; to eliminate himself, to leave the stage in time, in other words to inculcate in the pupil that independent thinking, that method of work, that knowledge of self and ability to reach his goal which we term ‘maturity’, the threshold beyond which begins mastery.”

Heinrich Neuhaus
The Art of Piano Playing, (trans. K.A. Leibovitch, London 1973)

Continue reading The Art of Piano Pedagogy