I have been performing and teaching piano for over 30 years.
I have also been teaching meditation for about half of that time and started my own meditation practice about the same time I started teaching piano.
In other words, a good majority of my working life has been sitting one on one with individuals either creating beautiful piano music or meditating and counseling.
Both entail lots of listening and connection.
It has been an incredible opportunity to develop discipline, courage, and passion in myself and others.
One of the ways I do this is by enrolling students in music festivals and competitions besides the usual studio recitals. Last week, the Seattle Young Artist Music Festival provided just such an opportunity. It’s simply the extra added push to help achieve a high standard of playing.
Doing this every year affords me the possibility to help children experience challenge. Through their own choice, they commit to do what it takes to get ready. There is an aim in place and a limited time frame in which to get it done. This propels them forward and holds them to the task.
Deadlines are a godsend.
My piano teaching often parallels my meditation/mindfulness instruction. It becomes the journey of letting go of the Ego or at least holding it at bay and watching it. It is a way to help my students realize states of identification. When they get distressed over something not being perfect or nervous about performing, it is simply a lesson in seeing the attachment to an image of themselves, to the way they think things should be and most especially to what other people think.
We only hold what other people think in high regard when it defines us.
The struggle to accept what goes wrong and not reflect back on it during a performance is also a mindfulness practice. Once a mistake occurs, if they don’t keep their mind on the present notes at hand more mistakes start happening, they lose their security and confidence, and then the nervous tension escalates. The secret to performing is accepting what is and then getting on with it.
Sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it?
Of course, without persistent preparation and practice, performance is a disaster. If they are not prepared, they have to draw on faculties that are not yet set in their bodies or minds. As well, if only their fingers know the drill somewhat automatically without their theoretical intelligence behind it, it becomes a house of cards, a catastrophe waiting to happen. The fingers will play without the mind there, just like driving a car and planning out our entire future without getting in a wreck. The minute the stress of people watching is in the picture, their fingers somehow lose their way and accidents ensue unless they have backup systems in place.
So my teaching is about learning to not care about what people think and to be so prepared that when we lose our nerves, there is something else to rely on.
Of course, practicing performance helps a great deal.
These qualities always transfer to other areas of life.
With this system, kids learn that there is always more to fix, more to improve, and more to learn in perfecting and securing a piece. The standard of excellence requires insight into what more can be done to make it failsafe and simultaneously knowing that perfection is rarely attained. It allows them to look more closely at the genius of a composition and how it all fits together.
The next step is to accept where they are when it comes to show time. If they have done their best and are ready, they get to enjoy the music and let go of this notion of perfection.
This goes for any profession and the practice of meditation.
As with meditation, there is one eye kept to the consistent practice. There is no cramming in music, just as there is no cramming in liberation. It all happens at a slow and steady pace with sparkling breakthroughs to inspire us on.
No one can beat down the doors of heaven.
In this role as teacher and mentor, I am the slave driver and the encourager; the listener, the supporter and the bad cop. If I want them to really learn, I must be diplomatically honest and frank. I must hold them to their word and show them what it takes. If they are any bit serious, they take it in stride and know that I care. It’s all in the delivery and, like parenting, they won’t always like me but they’ll appreciate me in the end.
It’s not easy helping people reveal themselves to themselves.
With all this, I too learn more about myself and my connection to others.
It’s true that if you want to learn more about something, teach it.
Sending lots of love this week,
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