As mentors, we can easily recall our student days when well-practiced pieces tanked upon arrival at our piano teacher’s home. Even ascending the staircase to the threshold of the apartment, our heart rate quickened, and we felt cold, clammy and faint. It was automatic over-drive for the first 20 minutes–an adrenaline crisis of magnitude.
Yet the stimulus, our kind-looking, empathetic mentor who appeared in the shining glow of her Zen-like environment, welcomed us with unconditional love and acceptance. She was draped in a HERE and NOW, mindful learning mantra, leading us to a grand piano, with neatly stacked, Blue urtext editions that she embraced with reverence and affection. At least, when she thumbed through its pages, locating the Mozart amoroso we had practiced– propping it neatly on the rack, her warm, inviting gesture should have transported us to a peaceful cosmos of awe-inspired music-making.
But we resisted, embracing our own enslaving mindset regardless of what existed in reality. And with a self-imposed distortion of what a lesson should be about, we were guaranteed a disappointment universe, bundled in autonomic jitters and keyboard-plagued land mines.
From my perspective, these tension-loaded recollections had been associated with a time when lessons were LIVE and bristling with person-to-person interactions. These would be tempered by a wise and patient teacher who walked us down from our mountain top of anxiety to a level ground of relaxation: In a gradual decompression, we became detached from our EGO-heavy, high expectations– wooed, instead, into ONE-ness with the creative process.
My most beloved NYC based-teacher, Lillian Freundlich, who’d mentored me with this very approach, knew, like a psychotherapist, how to refocus my attention on the music and not MYSELF. Her nursed immersion was progressive, in baby steps, as she shook the kinks out of my shoulders, forearms, wrists, and ushered in the second twenty minutes of my lesson, with natural, effortless breaths fueling a resonating singing tone. By her persistently patient efforts I was able to flow quite naturally through my scales and into the loving lap of Mozart’s middle Sonata movement. (K. 281)
Today, decades past my early student experiences, and in full bloom as a piano teacher of adults, I often find myself sitting thousands of miles from the epicenter of a pupil meltdown, wondering why my ONLINE presence can instigate a volcanic eruption!
It’s of concern because I’m NOT a looking-over-your-shoulder, or IN YOUR FACE mentor by any stretch of the imagination!
Nevertheless, this important glance at the world of teaching from near or far readily exposes the same issues of how we relate to our music and creative selves. Do we stunt our own growth with learning DEAD-lines and unreasonable EXPECTATIONS? What unattainable STANDARDS do we affix to each lesson that portend our own sense of FAILURE, when failure is our particular invention.
I certainly don’t view any part of a musical journey as a “failure” of any kind.
And here’s where I’ll defer to a well-written blog, (though I would have omitted any reference to “failure” within it.) The “guest” creator, known as the “Cross-eyed pianist,” sets forth a self-compassionate framing for music learning and performing that I’ve forwarded to my gaggle of ONLINERs who often shake in their in their booties the moment we’re face-to-face on FACE TIME! (Should I exit to the next room, at the next SIGN ON, listening to a pupil from a dark, hidden closet?)
Regardless of my on or off-screen persona, a distressed student is often heard moaning a familiar chant via her Internal Mic: “You must have told me to dip that cadence a thousand times, and I’m still at it! Maybe I should just quit the piece.. But, I’m not a quitter! You know that, so let me try it again!”
This soliloquy may play out with innumerable repeats and variations as I sit under a webcam, wondering if I should put an end to the perseveration that’s going to sabotage each and every subsequent hit the dirt effort.
It’s a no-brainer that if a student is playing with a loaded gun of confidence-shattering bullets, there’s no way that she’ll settle into a judgment-free, safety zone of ONE-ness with her J.S. Bach Sarabande.
And Who’s Counting my suggested revisions to a phrase, or the reminders to a pupil about fingering, etc.? It’s not I who’s in the Accountancy Office!
This is where fact and fantasy need separation, just like blaring FAKE NEWS demands a constant REALITY CHECK!
So I happily refer to the previously referenced blog that puts everything into perspective:
My favorite quotes:
“Self-compassion can protect us from the negative thoughts, self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy that the life of the musician may provoke, but it can also encourage us to open ourselves up to the full spectrum of our experience which is the starting point for truly compelling and mature musicianship.”
“…Mindfulness helps us to be non-judgmental and to take a balanced approach to our emotions. Being mindful allows us to observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, and for the musician it encourages a positive attitude towards mistakes (learning tools) and setbacks.”
An Online student in Kentucky responded positively to this posting:
“Perfect! I love it, self compassionate. My new mission!”
“Amen,” I replied, from my bunker in Berkeley.