As decades pass, and each adult piano student on his personal journey chimes in with a greeting at the start of a lesson, I’ve noticed a synchronized choir of commonly expressed thoughts.
The riveting idée fixe that resonates LIVE and through SKYPE channels, is like the redundant motif of Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.
“I really want to PLEASE you,” I hear times over, maybe even a few hundred if proliferated over a good span of teaching.
Quickly, I think on my feet. What is this about? Is the pupil here to please me, or to take a common journey with me on an equal footing?
My interest in this universe of musical growth and development makes me ponder responses that seem weighted down by early childhood experiences.
Many adults, I have come to learn, were saturated with a Right and Wrong way to play the piano.
It might have started with a vigilant parent who stood over them, counting note blunders, registering keen disapproval.
A stickler for PERFECTION, an overseeing, supervising mom, likely grunted in rhythm with the neighborhood piano teacher who demanded pleasure upon hearing the flavor of the week piece.
She otherwise abhorred a crowd of clunkers to final cadence. Piano pieces were in rapid turnover like licked down lollipops.
But why was perfection the all in one, ace-in-a-hole goal when the PROCESS, not the destination was far more important.
After so many years of hearing victims of this indoctrination perpetuate a self-punishing tradition, I found myself plowing through the wreckage, trying to steer everyone into a happy and healthy safety zone.
My declarations bundled in affirmation followed:
There is no need to please the teacher, but rather to PLEASE oneself.
Or perhaps, PLEASE should be replaced with I want to enjoy learning in its many facets, knowing that progress comes in spurts, not as a linear, forward movement. (When first learning to walk, for example, slips and falls did not attach value judgments), and crawling was an accepted stage of growth without a nod of disapproval.
In this regard, looking over the fence at every other adult taking piano– using a measuring rod to compare rates of advance is meaningless, and a waste of energy.
So I will shift my eyes and ears to the keyboard and savor each day that I make contact with something BIGGER than me, a gift I must cradle.
Finally, from the perspective of a piano teacher who is NOT a high priestess sitting above a congregation of love-starved students, I say,
While imparted pats on the back are part and parcel of human interaction, they should not be sought after as ENDS to mark out the ONLY POSITIVE junctures of piano study.
Instead, cleanse the environment by striking “success,” “please,” “good and bad lessons” from the vocabulary.
Music is about enriching one’s life with beauty, and having a partner mentor who leads and follows in a harmonious pursuit of what is largely intangible but still a miracle of creation.