Update : May 2019
I am now workling with Oscar Featherstone at Hereford Sixth Form College to make a series of short videos as an alternative way of presenting the text that you can read here. So far we have recorded the first eight pieces of the series and Oscar is currently working on producing the videos.
The work continues. We are developing a model for presenting the videos so that you hear and see some of the musical examples at the piano.
The text in bold at the beginning of each of the 48 is designed to fit precisely with the corresponding fugal theme from the Well Tempered Klavier.
You will hear how this works at the beginning of each video.
1. Prelude and Fugue in C major from Book 1
I HEAR THE WA-TER FLOWING
AND I HEAR THE MU-SIC (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
Education (from the Latin e-ducare) means to draw out from. In other words, good education is not about putting knowledge into someone, but about drawing out the wisdom that is already there. How does this relate to teaching the piano? Firstly, think of the act of teaching as a wake-up call to yourself. A wake-up call to be in a space of good listening. A wake-up call to be fully present. One of the key things to observe is how mental tension leads to physical tension. If you can be aware of this in yourself it will inevitably help your own playing. But it will also give you a clue as to what you can see happening to your pupils. People tighten up physically in many different ways at the piano - some hunch their shoulders, some lock their jaw, some tighten the forearms or the wrists, some generate tension in the lower back. Behind all of these there will be some mental movement. Maybe a movement of fear as a difficult passage is coming up - maybe a block of dense black notes - or a change of key to A flat minor. Or maybe a movement of contentment, of feeling good that things are going well only to then stumble across something which is in fact much simpler. As in ‘Pride comes before a fall’. This is like the danger of thinking that you are meditating well - that very movement of the mind is itself fixing something as a solid experience rather than allowing it to be a dynamic process. To play the piano really well requires a clear intention to be fully present in the sound. The sound is continually changing like water flowing over a rock in the river. So to be present in the sound means to allow the sound to go. As soon as we hold onto the sound - as in thinking ‘I did that passage really well’ - then we have stopped being present. The deep wisdom of knowing that everything is changing, that everything is flow, that nothing is fixed, nothing is solid, is deep within us. It is something that we are born with. The ultimate meaning of education, then, is to help someone draw out from this natural wisdom which is hidden or dormant. One of the great joys of teaching the piano is to see in microcosm this process of awakening. When someone experiences a letting-go of ‘trying’ and a sense of real progress in the sound, this is the place of enlightenment, the place of joy for teacher and pupil alike. None of this can happen without the simple act of showing up. It is no good just waiting for the moment of inspiration for that may never arrive. We have to show up to practising regularly, and work on our intention regularly. We have to put in the time in faith that something will happen. It is like planting seeds in the garden in faith that somehow in the darkness of the earth transformation will happen and the plant will emerge into the daylight and grow. In this, learning the piano is very much like meditation. If we only practise once a week - maybe before we have a lesson - then we are not going to get the same opening up, the same transformation as if we practise every day. Even if the total amount of time is the same. Again, it is like the seed in the ground. Imagine if it was only light for one day a week - even if it was light for a full 24 hours that day, it would not compensate for the darkness the rest of the week. Showing up to practise sounds really simple - but what we are confronted with again and again is the inner critic, the inner distracter, the inner ego personality doing its best to fill our minds with excuses for moving our attention somewhere else. Learning the piano, then, is not so much about learning an external skill but about exploring and coming to terms with the internal landscape. Coming to feel at ease with both the demand to show up and practise, and the freedom to let go of chasing after a particular result. It is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily difficult at one and the same time.
2. Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 1
O-PEN UP YOUR MIND
O-PEN UP YOUR HEART
O-PEN UP YOUR EAR__
AND RECEIVE (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
My journey of composing the Musical Remedies, a set of pieces matching the energies of the 38 Bach Flower Remedies, was essentially one of discovering and receiving emotional resonance. I did not set out with a project of something to achieve; indeed I really didn’t set out at all. I simply went to the piano and started improvising early one morning. When a clear melody emerged I sketched it down in the traditional way with pencil and manuscript paper along with a few chord symbols. I had no idea what it was or where it was going. As new melodies revealed themselves in the days that followed all I remember now is the clarity and the speed. When after nine days I saw the chart of the Bach Flower Remedies lying on top of the piano something clicked. I realised at a conscious level what I had been receiving in a different part of the brain. From what I understand now I might guess that what was happening was a heightened sense of hypnopompic awareness in which I was experiencing the clarity and creativity of that place between half-waking/half dreaming and being fully awake. But instead of lying in bed dozing I had been propelled upright and was sitting at the piano receiving these new melodies. The Musical Remedies are not at all radical musically; they are not at all avant-garde. They are for the most part tonal easily accessible music. Where they are radical is in their touching the roots of the emotional states associated with the Flower Remedies. At the time my knowledge of these emotional states was very sketchy - I knew Olive was for help with exhaustion and Gorse for help with feeling depressed and uncreative, but that was about all. The journey proceeded through the next nine months. I can remember the sense of urgency as the time went by - how I knew that it had to realised by the end of the year. What I did not realise at the time was how this process resonated so strongly with that of pregnancy and giving birth. The initial flood of energy, not knowing what was happening; the sudden realisation of what it was; the emotional ups and downs as the project grew and took clearer shape; the feeling stuck at quite a late stage; the rush of energy which finally resulted in the last five pieces being written down between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, just over nine months after the first morning at the piano. Maybe this parallel with pregnancy and giving birth is the clue to understanding the significance of emotional resonance. The thirty eight Flower Remedies seem to contain the full range of mental states, the full spectrum of possibilities, both negative and positive, and the full range of potential for transformation. When we think of Impatiens, the journey is from irritable tension to patience and empathy. With Clematis it is from daydreaming to a rooted creativity. These are just the first two of the Remedies that Edward Bach discovered. Their different but complementary qualities can be seen by the fact that they work together in the famous Rescue or Recovery Remedy..
3. Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major from Book 1
I LOVE MY SPE-CIAL NUM-BERS
THEY GO WITH ME AND
KEEP ME MO-VING
THROUGH THE WORLD (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
In one way, numbers appear to offer a limited number of possibilities. After all, including zero, there are only ten of them : 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Every other number is formed from this finite simple group, even such exotic numbers as 3/4 to the power 5/2. But from a different perspective in the human mind there are an infinite number of possibilities in the number world. There are even an infinite number of very special numbers like prime numbers and Fibonacci numbers. When it comes to music we find a similar paradox. It seems at first glance - or maybe first hearing - that there are only twelve different notes, and all the pieces of music in the world are simply different combinations of those same twelve notes. For the vast majority of Western music this is in the theoretical sense true. But in a more subtle sense you only have to talk to a violinist to learn that an A sharp in the key of B is not the same sound as a B flat in the key of F. For the pianist maybe, but not for anyone able to use their ear to create different pitches on their voice or instrument. Sound is physical vibration - notes sound ‘good’ together, what music theorists call consonant, because their vibrations match up mathematically. Notes sound ‘bad’ together, or what music theorists call dissonant, because their vibrations do not match up mathematically. Harmony is created out of different combinations of consonance and dissonance. If you play a major seventh interval, e.g. C and the B above, together on the piano the energy of the sound is harsh and is interpreted by many, perhaps most, people as being quite unpleasant. But now if you add the E and the G in the middle and play all four notes together the sound is quite different. The major seventh chord which results is a familiar jazz harmony and is interpreted by many people as mellow, cool, sophisticated. Many people who insist that they cannot understand or enjoy ‘modern music’ (which sadly for some includes most of the last 100 years) because of the dissonance will nonetheless accept and enjoy the ‘same’ dissonance, e.g. a minor ninth, in Bach or Beethoven. In other words, context is everything. Numbers, like musical notes, do not fascinate in isolation but in the way that they combine together, the way they hold memories, the way they make promises for the future. People belive in lucky numbers, they will choose birthday and anniversary date numbers for lottery tickets. They also believe in unlucky numbers - I was fascinated as a young child in suburban Birmingham by the absence of the number 13 from the house numbers in every road. Some numbers gain mythic significance very rapidly in the modern world. What do you first think of in relation to 42.................... 13 3/4 ............ 9 3/4............. 9/11............... * Equally some numbers can have multiple signifiers - does the number 111 make you think first of cricket or Beethoven? The two images for me - one of the cricket umpire David Sheppard standing on one leg until the batsmen scored another run; the other the extraordinary use of unusual time signatures like 12/32 in Beethoven’s last piano sonata - are both strongly connected to the number 111.
It has often been suggested that musical and mathematical ability go together, but in some ways they seem to come from very different areas of the brain. In my experience it is often the case that people who are very competent at sight reading and music theory are also good at mathematics. But these skills in themselves do not guarantee that someone is really musical. A good ear for music in terms of awareness of sound, pitch pulse, dynamic, articulation and phrasing does not appear to come from the same part of the brain. The result is that it is possible to be really musical whilst still finding the more mathematical skills of sight reading and music theory quite elusive.
* My guess is for most Westerners : Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Adrian Mole; Harry Potter train platform; New York 2001
4. Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor from Book 1
I used to have a profound mistrust of anyone who told me that they enjoyed practising scales - but now I hear myself explaining to others how interesting they can be! What is happening? Well one thing is very clear. To practise scales in a way that you want to, when you want to, and with some real sense of purpose is quite different from the common experience of having to practise scales in a tightly proscribed way in order to be tested on them in the course of an examination. One of the most interesting and beneficial ways of practising scales on the piano is as a tool in discovering a true independence of touch between the two hands. Play as slowly as you want to, left hand legato and right hand staccato. Be aware of each sound beginning and ending. Be aware of the different physical sensations in the two hands. Change around - play the left hand staccato and the right hand legato. Next, try playing loud and soft - left hand forte,right hand piano; then right hand forte, left hand piano. Even if you stay resolutely on C major this routine will show you how slowly you need to go to experience real independence of control between the two hands. Giving a few minutes each day to this routine will pay huge dividends when it comes to playing real music, whether classical, pop or jazz. If you feel comfortable playing scales in lots of different ways with lots of different touches you will find that your journey into the heart of what a new piece is really about will proceed much faster. One of the key elements to getting inside the positive scale experience is an understanding of the circle of keys. It still saddens me to realise just how many people have practised scales for years without anyone ever explaining the circle of keys to them satisfactorily. I have also met many people over the years who have passed their Grade V examination in Music Theory who seem to have little if any practical knowledge of how the circle of keys actually works at the piano. On the other hand, however, I have had the positive experience of teaching practical music theory to many people who have suddenly seen how everything works at the piano and how it can indeed be an enjoyable experience to play patterns, both melodic and harmonic, in all twelve different tonalities. Practising scales with different touch between the hands and understanding the circle of keys at the piano are both excellent preparation for the journey through the 48 Preludes and Fugues. This journey embraces all the keys, including the very obscure D sharp minor with its C double sharps (ignored even by the examination boards in favour of the identically sounding but differently notated E flat minor). This journey embraces a wide range of dynamics, a wide range of effective articulations, and a wide range of fingering challenges to sort out. but more than all this, the journey embraces a huge range of emotional resonance and colour. This has been the driving force behind my own exploration, both in terms of playing and also in terms of relating some of the pieces to my own Musical Remedies, a set of compositions based on the Bach Flower Remedies. Understanding and practising the scales relates to playing and experiencing the 48 Preludes and Fugues in the same way that understanding the structure of the plants helps an appreciation of the possibilities of the various Bach Flower Remedies. In the case of the scales there is a simple finite structure which underpins an open field of musical experience. In the case of the plants there are clear tendencies about how particular plants flourish which give all the clues as to how the Remedies can help the subtleties of the ever-changing mental state. This is all explored in great depth in Julian Barnard’s wonderful book Bach Flower Remedies : Form and Function. It was a few years ago now when I was practising the C minor Prelude from Book 1 of the 48 that I was suddenly struck by the similar emotional resonance to that of the first of the Bach Flower Remedies, Impatiens. There was something about the incessant semiquavers and the way they lead into an even faster section near the end that led me to link the two together. Soon afterwards I was practising the Prelude in E flat minor from Book 1 and was very struck by the daydreaming quality of the music and a similar emotional resonance to the second of the Flower Remedies, Clematis. And so this journey of mine continued until I had identified twelve Preludes and Fugues from the 48 matching up with the Twelve Great Healers, the first set of the Flower Remedies which Dr Edward Bach discovered. The resulting Bach to Bach programme which emerged from this is something I have performed four times now. It is a deeply meditational programme, transforming and intertwining sounds and energies in a fascinating journey of discovery. For those who are interested, the full set of connections is as follows : Impatiens Prelude and Fugue in C minor (Book 1) Clematis Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor (Book 1) Mimulus Prelude and Fugue in G minor (Book 1) Agrimony Prelude and Fugue in D minor (Book 1) Chicory Prelude and Fugue in A minor (Book 1) Vervain Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor (Book 1) Centaury Prelude and Fugue in F minor (Book 2) Cerato Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor (Book 2) Scleranthus Prelude and Fugue in E minor (Book 1) Water Violet Prelude and Fugue in E major (Book 1) Gentian Prelude and Fugue in A flat major (Book 1) Rock Rose Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor (Book 1)
5. Prelude and Fugue in D major from Book 1
WHAT A LOT OF CHAT-TER-ING THERE IS
WITH-IN MY MIND
WITH-IN MY MIND
A POINT OF BA-LANCE
CAN BE FOUND
IN SOUND (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!
Many years ago I had the idea for a research project which would philosophically and psychologically explore the communality of the experience of great music. Concerts which create such a strong and powerful experience that the usual stream-of-thoughts present in each member’s consciousness is overtaken by the communal experience of the music. On a few occasions in my life I have been present at concerts which felt as if they were world-changing events – I remember as a teenager a performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming in Oxford, long before he was well known in this country. There were only around fifty people present but it felt as if a whole new world of musical experience was opening up before our very eyes. In 1988 I saw Abdullah Ibrahim perform his composition Mandela live in London soon before Nelson Mandela was released from prison. The power and commitment of his playing convinced me that music could make real political change possible. These experiences have been a profound influence on my life. In the world of art therapy there is a word for this powerful shared experience – intersubjectivity. Experience which is shared at a deep level and which resonates in a similar way with different people at a level other than that which words can articulate. I went on a songwriting course once where three out of nine people on the course, myself included, were all writing challenging songs about our fathers at the same time. Not a word had been spoken in the group or to one another about our fathers. It was only when the songs had been written and we came to sing them to the whole group that the ‘conicidence’ became apparent. But was it coincidence? Or had we become more open than usual to accessing a deeper layer of the collective unconscious. There will always be some people who are more sceptical than others about the ‘reality’ of shared experience at this level – but there is understandably a communality of descriptions of mystical experiences across cultures, across centuries, across different stages of life. In the Orthodox Christian Liturgy the stage of moving from the individual-subjective experience is mapped out clearly. In the singing of the Cherubic Hymn we put aside ‘all cares of this life’ and place ourselves alongside the invisible orders of angels in worshipping the divine reality. When we receive communion the deep level experience is then of unity with the very essence of life, Christ as the divine DNA. In the light of this experience, the perennial questions in Western Christian history as to the nature of the Real Presence become irrelevant in much the same way as the sceptics’ questioning of the efficacy of homeopathy becomes irrelevant when you have seen a baby being transformed from a dangerously high fever to a calm sleep within twenty minutes of taking some Belladonna... When we approach the piano from this angle anything is possible. We teach well by being open in heart and mind, by allowing space for the angels to play with us and our pupils, and by immersing ourselves in an intersubjective experience of the music. By giving our ‘small self’ up we receive our ‘deep Self’ again and again. And while we cannot MAKE this experience happen for anyone else we can at least facilitate the conditions in which such experience is possible.
6. Prelude and Fugue in D minor from Book 1
I FIND CON-NEC-TION,
HERE AND EV-ERY-WHERE
AND FOR EV-ERY KEY
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!
Experiencing links between apparently unrelated phenomena and ideas has always been a big part of my life. If we take on board at some level of consciousness the mystical oneness of all then finding connections or emotional resonances between different phenomena does not seem at all surprising. Yet in fact this Bach to Bach project has already surprised me twice over. Firstly, as I have already said, when I started to compose the pieces which have become the Musical Remedies I had no idea what the pieces were. The moment of revelation when I suddenly saw the chart of the Flower Remedies on top of the piano was like thick clouds blowing over very quickly to reveal a pristine cloudless sky behind. The clarity of the connection had on some level been there from the beginning but it needed the parting of the clouds to clear the mental obfuscation. Much of life seems like this in fact. It’s like St Paul’s ‘seeing through a glass darkly’ rather than ’face to face’. For the most part it’s definitely the darkness but when the light appears it is extraordinary. I was truly amazed by the clarity of the connection of my music to the Flower Remedies and that undoubtedly gave me the determination and will to complete the writing of all thirty-eight pieces rather than just the first nine. The second surprise was several years later when I first sensed a connection - an emotional resonance - between the Bach Remedies and some of the 48 Preludes and Fugues. I had been practising some of these pieces for a few months without seeing hearing or dreaming any connection with the Flower Remedies. But the day when the connection was revealed was again like the sudden parting of the clouds. The fact that it was the first two of the Flower Remedies, Impatiens and Clematis, is really interesting because they are so different from each other. And yet Dr Bach put both of these Remedies into his most famous and most used Remedy of all, the Rescue or Recovery Remedy. So although the irritable impatient energy and the detached daydreaming energy appear so radically different, Dr Bach had the wisdom to see that our mental and emotional confusion in times of crisis can be in need of both at the same time. So many of our confusions in the contemporary world seem to stem from our inability to see that we need opposites at the same time. All our obsessions as a culture and our prioritising either/or philosophies over and above holistic experiences lead us into further confusion. We so often feel compelled to align with one view or another as being ‘right’. Insights into the necessity of both/and do not come from propositions made by the head but from holistic experiences of body, mind and spirit. The path of interconnection opened up by holistic experiences can take us beyond male/female, beyond light/dark, beyond science/religion; it can bring much joy. Exploring life with an openness to finding connections to the bigger picture we find that we see what we need to see, meet who we need to meet, hear what we need to hear. This is not about false optimism or about being fatalistic. It is about finding a real balance between discipline and freedom. Playing the piano demands a real discipline, a clear intention, a being emotionally and intellectually present, a physical awareness of the present moment. When all these are realised then there can be a genuine experience of freedom. The freedom to hear the inner intended sounds become externalised as sound vibrations; the freedom to experience the flow of physical energy connecting mind body and piano together; the freedom to communicate emotionally without the perennial linguistic dangers of being misunderstood. Once again we see how playing the piano can be seen as a spiritual discipline, the deep purpose of which is to experience and communicate freedom.
7. Prelude and Fugue in E flat major from Book 1
THERE ARE TWELVE KEYS MA-JOR,
TWELVE KEYS MI-NOR
AND FOR EV-ERY KEY
THERE ARE TWO PRELUDES AND TWO FUGUES (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!
There are twelve different notes in the chromatic scale, and then we return to the opening note again, an octave higher. The octave always sounds in harmony because the frequencies of the notes match up in simple mathematical ratios. Similarly the fifths in between the octaves. For instance : - //A 110 /E 165 /A 220 E/ 330 A/ 440 E// 660 Each of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale is the base note for two scales, one major and one minor. The Well-Tempered Clavier consists of two pieces - a Prelude and a Fugue - for each and every major and minor key. One collection of pieces was written in the 1720s; the other in the 1740s. In total, then, we have 12 x2 x2 x2 = 96 short pieces of music. But the collection is always known as the ’48’ because the Prelude and Fugue are always played consecutively as if they were different movements of a single piece. Other composers have written sets of pieces in all the twenty-four keys. For piano, the most famous are Chopin’s set of Preludes, Op 28 and Shostakovich’s sets of Preludes Op 34 and Preludes and Fugues, Op 87, inspired by the composer’s hearing the Bach ’48’ performed by Tatiana Nikoleyeva in 1950. But why not symphonies? No-one as far as I know has ever tried to write a symphony in all 24 keys. The largest collection of symphonies is that of Haydn, which at 104 is unlikely to be surpassed. There are, nonetheless, several keys that he left untouched. There are many practical difficulties tuning string and wind instruments together in more complex keys, and so the majority of symphonies in the classical and romantic eras were written in keys with no more than three sharps or flats. Meanwhile, the piano plays equally well in all keys - or equally badly in all keys if you happen to have the sort of perfect pitch that most of us are glad we don’t have! When I think of the number of symphonies written by famous composers I think immediately of 1,4,7,9,15,41 and 104. Of these numbers the 9 is famously important for proving an end point for several composers. Mahler, indeed, was so nervous about writing a 9th symphony in case it was his last that he famously titled his major symphonic work Das Lied von der Erde instead of Symphony No. 9. Now, in the spirit of making unlikely connections, if we take this special symphony number, 9, and multiply by the special chromatic scale number, 12, we arrive at one of the most powerful sacred numbers in all the world, 108. In the Tibetan tradition as indeed in many much earlier Asian traditions the number 108 takes on a special significance - the number of beads on a mala, the number of mantras chanted in one cycle of prayers. Astrologically, 108 is 9 Heavenly Bodies x 12 Signs of the Zodiac. It is 27 Lunar Mansions X 4 phases of the moon. In Buddhism it is also 6 (consciousnesses) x 3 (preferences) x 3 (times - past, present and future) x2 (virtuous or non-virtuous). It also happens to be the case that the distance between the Earth and the Sun is 108 times the Sun’s diameter, and the distance between the Earth and the Moon is 108 times the Moon’s diameter. The Sun’s diameter also happens to be 108 times that of the earth. Why are numbers so important to us? Clearly in some ways they correspond to things that we understand - or think that we understand - very dimly. They are a tool for creating patterns of order in the chaos; they give us a framework for seeing and interpreting the world.In other ways, they seem to correspond to material reality - there is this particular number of children, this particular number of musical keys. From a slightly different perspective, however, we can see that the numbers we think of as ‘normal’ are in fact the exception. On a sliding scale of all numbers, 1,2 and 3 are all extraordinary exceptions just as on the sliding scale of all musical vibrations, what we on the piano call C,D and E are extraordinary exceptions. A violinist can understand this more easily than a humble pianist, for the latter can only play the notes which are set in front of him/her whereas the violinist can make an infinite number of notes between for example the D/ and E/ of the piano. Where does his leave us? Maybe with a sense of wonder that we really understand so little. The numbers that we love to make sense of our lives are only a tiny fraction of the whole. Just as the physicists are discovering that the very stuff of the material cosmos is for the most part emptiness rather than solidity. Just as the mystics of all traditions have always known that the reality we think we understand is but a tiny fraction of the big picture.
8. Prelude and Fugue in E flat/D sharp minor from Book 1
‘TRYING TOO HARD’
TO RELAXATION (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!
One of the most powerful obstacles in practising the piano is the demon of trying too hard. Most of us have been told at some point in our young lives that we must try harder, that we cannot expect to succeed if we don’t try harder, that we must always try to do our best. Maybe even that it is more important to try than to succeed. It is difficult to run counter to all this well-intentioned advice and say ‘No, I am not going to try harder. I am going to try less’ But unless you do, piano practise will remain a struggle rather than a joy. I have watched this process so often in so many people, myself included. The harder you try to master a tricky passage on the piano, the more physical tension is created in the body. This increase in physical tension - be it in the shoulders, arms, wrists, back of the hands or wherever - makes the very fine level of coordination that is necessary more and more difficult to attain. This in turn leads to an increase in the mental frustration which then ratchets up the physical tension until it is counter-productive to go on practising at all. How to break through this vicious circle? The simple answer is by easing up on the trying - trying too hard is counter-productive. We have to find a balance between clear relaxed thinking and a strong sense of being present. Our ‘trying hard’ energy needs to be chanelled or converted into a commitment to staying with the process in the present. Then within this presence, this commitment to staying with the process, we can relax. We can observe the details of fingering, the details of hand movements, of hand coordination. We can repeat the series of movements that are necessary - slowly, in a relaxed way. Gradually, relaxed mind leads to relaxed body. We start to see, hear and feel that our energy is flowing, our hands are moving easily, the music has a quality of movement, gentle connection and flowing breath. The movement from trying too hard to allowing the music to breathe is a journey that we embark on every time we practise the piano. It is not something we can tick off like a shopping list but a way of being that we need to remember again and again. Understood like this, practising the piano is a spiritual discipline in the same way that running can be. The instrument and the music are not demons to conquer or master, but allies to make friends with. And just as we don’t tend to make friends in life by trying too hard, we cannot expect to make friends with the piano by trying too hard either. During my many years of teaching the piano I have watched and guided this morvement from ‘trying too hard’ to ‘relaxed awareness’ so many times in so many people - and it still brings a real sense of joy to see it happening.
9. Prelude and Fugue in E major from Book 1
I PUT MY LEFT FOOT FOR-WARD
RIGHT FOOT FOR-WARD (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!
Pulse is perhaps that most universal musical parameter. We feel a pulse in our body and we feel the way that changes when we rest, when we exercise, when we are emotionally agitated, when we meditate. We have at the same time an awareness that the rate or speed of pulse can change. Musically speaking, there is no doubt that some people find it much easier than others to hold on to a steady pulse. I still have little idea as to why this is so but I do know that it is very difficult to teach someone a good sense of pulse if they don’t have one. Metronomes are a useful aid of course but I have found over many years of teaching that many quite accomplished and musical people find it near to impossible to play consistently in time with a metronome. Of course there are many layers of complexity in playing even quite a simple piano piece and it seems clear that as the layers of complexity expand the brain becomes more aware of some layers than others. Pulse would appear to be one of the simplest layers but if awareness of the pulse goes there is next to no chance of creating a satisfying or successful musical performance. Often in working on a classical slow movement I have seen people master a complex passage in demisemiquavers only to falter when it comes to playing a bar with two crotchets and a rest. What is needed is not just an awareness of the pulse but an awareness of the inner division of the pulse. It is worth spending a lot of time on this, being absolutely clear what the difference is between 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 on the one hand and 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 on the other, assuming that the pulse always remains the same. Clapping these rhythms creates an aural, physical and structural awareness of the difference between 4/4 and 12/8 time; for many people it can also help to develop an awareness of the difference between straight and swung quavers. This is a very practical approach to understanding music theory; also to feeling the relationship between ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ musical languages. In my experience, though, it is much easier to teach this to youngsters than it is to adults who often need to ‘unlearn’ much of what they have fixed in their minds. And that I think is the real crux of the problem - having clear knowledge and ideas about pulse is not the same as hearing and feeling the pulse. To feel at ease playing music this knowledge needs to be embodied. For some people this is very obvious but for others it is way out of their comfort zone. In my now extensive experience of teaching piano I would say that the lack of an embodied sense of pulse is the biggest obstacle to more musical playing. It is more of an obstacle with adults because they tend to think that they must surely be beyond the stage of clapping pulses and dividing them into 2s and 3s. But the fact is that a couple of minutes spent on this every day will save months of frustration and wasted effort. And the great thing is that this is something that you can practise anytime you are walking. Simply treat each step as a single pulse and internally divide the steps into 2 and then into 3 and then into 4. Repeat as many times as you want! 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 and a 1 er and a 2 er and a 3 er and a 4 er and a Do this while you are walking every day for a month and hear what a difference it makes to your piano playing!
10. Prelude and Fugue in E minor from Book 1
WHEN WE START TO
FEEL THE FEAR RE-
CE-DING THEN THE
BREATH BE-GINS TO O-PEN UP
HEAR THE MU-SIC FLOW-ING (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
Improvisation is something that we all do every time we have a conversation, every time we answer the telephone, every time we go into a shop. It is a fundamental part of normal human experience. So what is it that happens when as a teacher you ask many ‘classically’ trained musicians to improvise? The panic which often ensues suggests that they might have been told to stand in front of the class with all their clothes removed. To some people who have learnt music from the ‘dots’ on the page rather than by ear the instruction to improvise undoubtedly starts alarm bells ringing in the head. The demons of terror are let loose, the inner critic is laughing with scorn before a single note is played, the hands become paralysed with fear. Fear of ‘getting it wrong’, of not being good enough, of not being in control, of being laughed at, of being put down… And yet sometimes within fifteen or twenty minutes these same people are happily and successfully improvising with a pentatonic scale with their right hand while I play a simple chord sequence underneath. They are amazed to find that they really can improvise after all. So what has changed? On a physical level there is no doubt that there has been a relaxation of tension – the chronic tension which was preventing flow has relaxed sufficiently to allow flow to happen. And preceding this there has been a mental shift, a shift in thinking which has allowed a ‘solid’ problem to dissolve. The way of effecting this shift can be as simple as breathing – when in doubt, breathe out! Some other pupils – those who have learnt music much more by ear – improvise so naturally and easily that to begin with there is nothing to teach. Yet sometimes here the panic arises if I suggest that they might play from some written music. I have seen and heard wonderful flowing musical players become like wooden statues when attempting to play from written music. Their natural musical confidence is knocked aside and replaced with the fear of getting it wrong, of not being good enough, of not being in control etc. There is no reason why someone cannot be a good ‘reader’ AND a good ‘improviser’. These are not either/or abilities but both/and abilities like reading a language and speaking it. If we think of many of the great composers of the past – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt – it is immediately apparent that they were equally at ease with reading and writing music and also ‘speaking’ it through improvisation. A good teacher needs to have worked through their own demons of fear in order to help pupils work through theirs. The musical benefits of working in both directions are great – a balance of freedom and discipline, an increased sense of presence in the sound, an increased sense of opening mind, heart and body to the experience, and engaged sound which draws an audience into a performance. Both the journeys from confident improviser to confident music reader and vice versa depend on an increased appreciation and understanding of musical structures. To read piano music well you need to understand about chord structures. Then you find that you do not need to read every note individually. To improvise well you need to understand scale patterns. Then you find that you do not need to register every note that you play as an individual entity. The resulting flowing whole is always more than the sum of the parts. Enjoy!
11. Prelude and Fugue in F major from Book 1
SOUNDS AS THEY-
CHANGE ALL SUP-
MINDFULNESS (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
The practice of mindfulness is both very old and very new in human consciousness and experience. Very old in that long before any modern religions developed - only within the last five thousand years - it is clear that people were practising mindfulness. Hunters and gatherers, nomadic people, people from the Arctic to the tropical rainforest, from the savannah to the desert. Mindfulness - being aware of what is happening while it is happening - was essential for survival. It has only been in more modern times, in what are commonly called more ‘civilised’ societies, that survival has NOT been so dependent on the cultivation of mindfulness. Yet in our contemporary Western society there is no doubt that mindfulness also has a very new dimension. Short courses in mindfulness are now available everywhere as more and more people learn something of the cost of our modern high-tech left brain dominated culture and how the practice of mindfulness can help to restore some balance and sanity. Most meditation practices depend on some sort of support or anchor, something to which the attention returns every time it wanders off. One of the meditation supports is a simple awareness of sound - sound arising, sound remaining, sound ceasing, particular sounds morphing into other sounds. Mindfulness practice increase your awareness of sounds that are actually here and now just as the traditional hunter would have been acutely aware of what sounds were actually present and what they would mean in terms of the presence of animals. We are now only just beginning to understand how important this awareness of sound is even for living creatures in the depths of the ocean - and how easily their survival is being threatened by the extraneous noise of ships above. John Cage’s notorious composition 4’33” - the so-called ‘silent’ piece - has been ridiculed by many people. But in some ways it is one of the most important musical works of the twentieth century because it makes us listen with much greater attention than is usual. It takes us into a mindful space where our ears are more open and our perennial left-brain analysis is quietened down. Seeing the piece performed live, in all of its three short movements, is an experience which can teach us how we might approach our own music making, whether performance, group work rehearsing, or solo practising. In my experience practising piano immediately after meditating makes this sort of awareness much easier to attain. Being aware of the arising of each sound, the morphing of each sound into another sound, the intensity of each sound, the tone colour of each sound, and the decay of each sound - all this is very much like putting a mirror to the use of sound as a mindfulness support in meditation. Attention to this whole constantly changing process means that our attention is present, and the constant change frees us from the need to fix our attention on one point rather than another. The experience of playing through an entire piece in this state of presence is that there is no effort required. When we contrast this with all the times we were told in life to make more effort, to try harder, we can see how absurd our ‘normal’ ways of thinking are. Every time we suggest to someone else that they should ‘try harder’ we are directing them AWAY from mindfulness. Every time we bring people’s attention in practising back to the actual here-and-now sound we are encouraging them TOWARDS mindfulness. In most pieces that we learn at the piano there are one or two passages which we continue to think of as ‘difficult’. And usually we manifest physical reactions to our fear of the difficulty just as we might do if suddenly put into a hunting situation where we have to work out how to survive in the presence of a wild and potentially dangerous animal. if we can stay really present we realise that the fear comes and goes, the physical manifestations of fear come and go, and that all we need to do is to stay present. Good piano practise is good mindfulness practise. And developing a good mindfulness practice will help you to develop deeper and ultimately more productive ways of practising the piano.
12. Prelude and Fugue in F minor from Book 1
I HEAR THIS
NOTE IT TAKES ME
TO A PLACE_
WHERE THERE IS LIGHT (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
It might be said that across all traditions the archetypal mystical experience is one of merging. Losing the sense of separate individual consciousness and merging with the greater whole. From the mystical perspective not only individual ego-consciousness but also couplex religious systems dissolve in an experience, however fleeting, of cosmic unity. I first remember this experience myself in Christ Church meadow in Oxford at the age of eighteen. It was a beautiful sunny November morning,; the different clocks were chiming out their eleven o’clock call for the two minute Remembrance Day silence. All the autumn leaves seemed to merge with the living and the dead together and time stopped. It was a breathing through into another dimension and I have never forgotten this initial experience of ‘how things really are’. Many years later on, at the end of the Drubchen on Holy Isle in Scotland, I was telling a Tibetan Buddhist nun about an extraordinary encounter that had occurred during the Drubchen with my father who had died nineteen years earlier. ‘How amazing this was’ I said. ‘On the contrary’ was her reply, this was ‘how things really are’. most of the time we only perceive a fraction of the reality around us. When Jesus takes his three disciples up into the heights of Mount Tabor and they see him transfigured into dazzling light the disciples enter a different dimension, a different space, where they see ‘how things really are’. it seems that for most of us most of the time we prefer to retreat behind the illusion of solidity rather than stay in touch with the free-flowing non-dualistic flow of how things really are. We have a psychologically strong need to believe in the survival of the separate personality. Ultimately though it is surely not the separate personality which survives death but the merged consciousness of the mystical experience. I once had the privilege of being on a Greek island for the celebration of the service known as the Lamentations service (Great Saturday Matins.) At one point in the service the congregation walked all around the village in a funeral procession for Christ. On returning to the church everyone entered in by passing underneath the cloth known as the epitaphs representing the tomb of Christ. This was an unforgettably powerful experience of passing through death into the glorious life and light of the Resurrection. This experience - whenever and however it happens to you - is not a symbolic experience but a visceral one. It is a taste of how things really are. I have been lucky enough to find several pieces of music in my life which have also led to this place. The Cavatina from Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat, Op 130; the slow movement of the Schubert String Quintet; the final movement of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony; the 19th movement of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus; Stockhausen’s Mantra for two pianos; Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata. Experiencing music in this way is not something that can be anticipated; neither is it something that can be repeated because of the desire to experience it again. It is something which can only be received with gratitude when it happens and let of with gratitude when it ceases - in the knowledge that this is a taste of how things really are. Music can function as an ‘intimation of immortality’ in the same way as can a mystical experience of nature. If you approach practising, performing and teaching from this perspective you are opening to the big picture - the place where the indescribable beauty and terror of the world dance hand in hand. The place where separate solidified consciousness ceases and unified consciousness abounds.
13. Prelude and Fugue in F sharp major from Book 1
JUST START WITH ONE QUITE SIM-PLE VOICE
AND MAP IT WITH A-NO-THER
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
At the heart of the Bach to Bach project is the conviction that it is interesting to map one system onto another to see what arises in the way of interillumination. When we consider two systems together, such as the 38 Flower Remedies and the 48 Preludes and Fugues, connections arise which did not previously exist. This sort of mapping is always radical and creative. Radical because it demands going back to the roots; creative because it unearths connections that were not previously seen. Going back to the roots is a particularly striking image here. With the Flower Remedies we consider the way in which particular plants root themselves, seed themselves, propagate themselves in order to illuminate our understanding of how human thoughts, emotions and physical symptoms are all so clearly connected. Dr Bach’s work of mapping the world of plants onto the world of the human mind was an immensely rich, radical and creative act whose significance we are only just beginning to acknowledge. We can consider roots in a different sense with the Preludes and Fugues. Each of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale takes its turn to be the root note for four pieces, two major and two minor. The function of the root note is to give a point of stability, a home base, a reference point. Some of the pieces wander well outside this home base but the knowledge that they will eventually return creates an emotional; ‘safe space’ in which other layers of feeling can be experienced. Each piece presents a journey, and just as physical journeys in the external world eventually end by returning home so these musical journeys bring us back to the roots which we recognise. The whole journey through the ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ takes in all the roots in turn. It is not surprising, then, that the emotional range covered is vast. For the pianist to be able to bring these emotional connections alive there has to be a lot of disciplined work on making connections happen physically. Any pianist will be acutely aware of the fact that when you put two hands together there are difficulties of coordination which seem much greater than that posed by either hand separately. I sometimes consider this mathematically and explain to people that the level of difficulty is more like multiplying numbers together than simply adding them. So if the left hand part of a particular piece is say difficulty level 3 and the right hand difficulty level 4 (levels to be imagined or interpreted by each individual according to their experience) then putting the two hands together may well be more like difficulty level 12 (3x4) rather than difficulty level 7 (3 + 4). This is only discouraging if we hold onto the mindset that we ‘should’ be able to play the hands together because we can play them separately. If we can let go of that sometimes pervasive thought then we can open up to the fact that in learning to coordinate all the fingers of both hands for playing the piano we are going way beyond what we have learned to do through millions of years of evolution. The thumb to index finger opposition evolved for using tools to help us survive, but the precisely differentiated use of all our fingers is not about survival and it has to be learnt through long hours of practise. If we can get through the block that it ‘should’ be easier - and if we can take on board the fact that the increase in difficulty level involved in putting the two hands together means that we have to go much slower - then the whole process can become really fascinating. The key thing is the slowing down because that gives us the space to observe much more closely what is actually happening. Practising a piece with two hands together really slowly may not sound particularly musical, but it is absolutely necessary to achieve a real physical clarity about what the combination of fingers is doing. There are always more layers of observation to uncover. In learning a Fugue in three, four or five parts everything is even more complex - the brain, the ears, the fingers are all being challenged to map several things together at the same time. But the beauty of the Fugue is that this always starts from one simple voice. The Fugue as a form thus presents us with the perennial paradox of the One and the Many, the Simple and the Complex. We all make our maps through life, and in doing so we all have to map one system onto another in order to function as social animals. It is because we are creative beings living in relationship with other creative beings that we are able to find new interilluminations to move us forwards. Our life is ever in the process, not in achieving goals. Applying that to practising the piano transforms our fear of failure into the joyful experience of flowing energy.
14. Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor from Book 1
IT IS TIME
TO_ SIT AND PRE-PARE THE
MIND AND BO-DY TO_ LET
GO (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
At the beginning of the Liturgy in the Eastern Church the deacon says quietly to the priest ‘It is time for the Lord to act’. There have been a lot of preparations before this moment with material things such as the putting on of vestments, the cutting of bread and the lighting of candles. But it is now as if all that human activity can be put to one side and space created for the one thing which is really important - it is time for the Lord to act. Later on in the Liturgy, in the middle of the Cherubic hymn which is sung at the point known as the Great Entrance, we sing the phrase ‘lay aside all the cares of this life’. Once again we have the sense that what is really important needs to be given space beyond the undercurrent of our own mental chatter. What can all this mean to someone who feels no connection with the language of religion, indeed someone who might feel quite alienated by religion? I think to me these particular moments are so important because they make it clear that we are not in control of what happens, that we do not grow in awareness by trying too hard to do things, to get things right, or by worrying about things which have gone wrong. There are always things which are going wrong with our lives and in the lives of others that we love - but in accepting that and letting go of our need to change and control external events we find the simple joy and truth of being present in the richness and fullness of the present moment. In contemporary secular mindfulness practice an emphasis is often placed on setting the intention. What is the inner intention behind our desire to practise mindfulness? Are we able to both see and to see through our desire to practise in order to achieve more control, more happiness, more wisdom for the ego? Are we able to find a deeper desire - to practise in order to let go? In the end, happiness and wisdom do not come from trying too hard, from what most people call success, from wanting things to be different from how they are. Rather from finding a practice which brings you more fully into the present. In old fashioned religion this was called the ‘practice of the presence of God’; in the even older language of the Buddhist sutras it was called satipatthana - the practice of mindfulness. When we sit and prepare to play the piano, whether it is just on our own at home or in a hall with an audience listening, we can learn from all this. If we set our intention to open up to receive then we at once move away from the idea that we are trying to achieve something. In response to this mental movement, our physical and emotional responses relax. This makes a huge difference to our ability to receive. It’s like tuning a traditional radio receiver to get rid of the crackle and interference. So often I see that this is the real key to people enjoying their piano playing more. The inner demons which assail people when they learn the piano are not so different from the inner demons in other areas of life. But somehow in this particular activity they can seem very exposed - especially when playing in front of someone else like a teacher! I have known an adult pupil tell me that they were anxious about practising at home in case someone heard them make a mistake while walking past on the other side of the street. And I have never had an adult pupil who hasn’t told me - usually in every single lesson - that they played the piece better when they were at home only a few hours or days ago. It is hard as a teacher to convince someone to let go. This becomes a warning to the teacher. The desire to persuade someone else to let go also has to be let go of. This is analogous to the realisation in meditation of the need to compassionately accept instead of fighting the wandering nature of the mind. When we sit at the piano and have the simple intention of receiving the sound rather than making something happen then we enter into a different space. This is the ‘time for the Lord to act’, the time to ‘lay aside all the cares of this life’, the time to be simply present in mindful awareness. When you have the privilege of attending a concert where the artist or artists are able to enter this space your experience as a listener will be qualitatively different from a concert where the artist or artists may dazzle you with their technique and control but do not take you any deeper. As a reflective exercise, think of the most memorable concerts you have ever been to and ask yourself what were the qualities that made it so memorable.
15. Prelude and Fugue in G major from Book 1
FIRST YOU MUST PLAY ME SLOW-LY
AND THEN YOU
WILL SEE SOME PRO-GRESS
THEN SOME MORE PRO-GRESS
THEN YOU WILL START TO SEE
THAT IT’S EA-SY (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
There’s no such thing as a difficult piece on the piano. Either a piece is impossible – or it is easy. The way in which it changes from the one to the other is by practising…..
I’m not sure which famous pianist first said this, but it is fact maddeningly true to experience. The only problem is that we don’t have - or don’t think that we have
Enough clarity of mind and
Enough physical and mental coordination to engage in
But if we did we would find that it is true. And even if we only find that it is true for one piece then we have discovered an important truth – that there is nothing to fear.
Einstein was once asked what he felt was the most important question for humanity. His answer was to find out whether the universe is essentially friendly and benign. If it is, he said, we have nothing to fear. We can therefore focus our energy on tuning into the universe’s positive field instead of putting up walls of defensive armour and protecting ourselves from endless imaginary tigers.
A lot of the blocks that manifest for people learning the piano are to do with imaginary tigers. There are so many excuses not to practise. There are so many feas about playing wrong notes – especially in front of teachers! There is so much tension which manifests in the body – shoulders, jaw, neck, forearm, wrist, even big toe (as I have discovered myself) But where does all this tension begin? Quite clearly it all begins in the mind –in the movement of fear which comes from anticipation of a difficulty which has not yet arisen.
Take a short passage which at present is impossible for you to coordinate.
Slow it right down, analyse every movement of the fingers which is necessary in this passage and clarify in your mind the exact order of those movements.
Remain emotionally detached from the results; simply observe what happens when you repeat and repeat and repeat.
Relaxed mind makes for relaxed muscles.
And one day without warning the light switches on in your mind – this is easy!
The bad news is that sometimes this state is achieved once and then appears to go away again. I have often seen and heard a pupil play something which they thought they couldn’t - but then not be able to repeat the success. The way the mind tightens up is very subtle – the very thought that success has been achieved can produce a tightening in the muscles which makes it difficult to repeat the success.
Endless patience is needed – but if you persist you will find it is true. As long as you think something is difficult you will tighten up and it will remain impossible. When you have dissected it and analysed it and slowed it down and practised it again and again one day it will be easy.
16. Prelude and Fugue in G minor from Book 1
THIS CHORD IS SPE-CIAL
IT'S THE ONE YOU CAN HEAR-
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
When we moved, for any number of sensible practical reasons, from a romantic Tudor cottage to a suburban town house, the one consolation to my sense that this was a regressive step was the house number. 49 is a special number because it is a square number. Not just any square number, but the square of one of the most magical, mysterious and mystical of all the numbers, the number 7. The seventh movement of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du Temps depicts rainbows - with their traditional seven colours - for the angel that announces the end of time. In the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, at the beginning of John’s vision on the isle of Patmos we read : I turned round to see who had spoken to me and when I turned I saw seven golden lamp stands and at the centre a figure like a Son of Man….In his right hand he was holding seven stars. The most common musical scales have seven different notes. There are seven different letter names in music which countless generations of music students have remembered in the order FCGDAEB maybe using a mnemonic such as Father Christmas Gave Dad An Electric Blanket. This gives the order of the keys in the circle of fifths and also the order of sharps as they appear in key signatures. If, for instance, you see a key signature with three sharps those sharps will be F,C and G. If you see a key signature with six sharps they will be F,C,G,D,A and E. The beauty of this sequence is that the reverse works for the flat key signatures. So even if you never learnt a reverse mnemonic (such as Blanket Exploded And Dad Got Cold Feet) you can generate the order of flats simply by reversing the order of letters. Thus, for instance, if you see a key signature with three flats they will be B, E and A. If you see a key signature with six flats they will be B, E, A, D, G and C. In other words this simple sequence of seven letters can reveal the whole structure of the circle of fifths, the fundamental building block of the key relationships in Western music from the Baroque period onwards. Another fascinating musical journey involving the number 7 lies in exploring the different types of seventh chords. Most theory books will give you charts of five sets of seventh chords to learn; that is five for each of the twelve chromatic notes, i.e. a total of sixty different chords. This can be rather daunting until you really understand the patterns involved. The ‘simple’ seventh chord, the one notated as C7, G7 etc. , is in a way not that simple at all. It always contains one note, the seventh, which is NOT present in the root scale. So a C7 chord includes a B flat, not a B natural. I always explain this by way of linking the C7 chord to the key of F. The scale of F of course DOES include a B flat, and so understanding the C7 chord belonging there makes perfect sense. My experience is that once people really understand this, it is quite easy to develop a theoretical understanding of the whole circle of fifths: C7 belongs to F F7 belongs to B flat B flat 7 belongs to E flat E flat 7 belongs to A flat A flat 7 belongs to D flat D flat 7 belongs to G flat G flat 7 (= F sharp 7) belongs to B B7 belongs to E E7 belongs to A A7 belongs to D D7 belongs to G G7 belongs to C Of course to have a real practical knowledge of this at the piano means spending time learning the physical connections between the adjacent keys and chords. This work will prove to be of enormous benefit with playing not only classical repertoire but also playing jazz standards from lead sheets. The minor seventh chord, notated Cm7, Gm7 etc. , is puzzling to many students in the early days because the difference between C7 and Cm7 is nothing to do with the seventh of the chord at all but to do with the third. C7 has a MAJOR third, Cm7 has a MINOR third. How confusing is that? No wonder many people despair of the wonders of music theory! The major seventh chord is the one which DOES include the seventh note which is present in the root scale. Thus C maj7 includes a B natural; G maj7 includes an F sharp. Another way of thinking about the major seventh chord is that it combines the sound of the major and the minor triads. Thus a C maj7 chord can be heard by playing a C major triad and an E minor triad simultaneously. And whereas the C and B sounding together are jarring to most peoples’ ears, once you place the E and G in the middle the sound is quite mellow. The half diminished seventh is another common jazz chord and it is particularly useful in a minor key where it is the key built on the second degree of the scale. This can be understood as a minor seventh chord with a flattened fifth and indeed can be annotated as for instance Bm7(b5), the chord on the second degree of the A minor scale. The diminished seventh chord is built out of a series of minor thirds; all the distances between the notes of the chord are equal. This chord, much loved by silent movie pianists, creates a dramatic sense of tension more easily than anything else in music. It was also used to great effect by Bach (e.g. with the choir shouting Barabbam in the St Matthew Passion) and Beethoven (e.g. the transition into the finale of the Appassionata Piano Sonata, Op 57). So why stop at five seventh chords? Why not seven? The chords C-E flat - G -B natural and C - E flat - G flat - B natural are also seventh chords. I think it is time to proclaim the full seven - seven system of chords. A suitable creative venture to come from house number forty-nine!!
17. Prelude and Fugue in A flat major from Book 1
SPEAK AND LIS-TEN
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
Education is one of those topics which gives scope for seemingly endless dialogue, discussion and disagreement. A perennial political hot potato where everyone wants to be seen and heard expounding the best solutions. As we have seen already, If the etymology of the word is taken seriously, education is about drawing out from not about filling up an empty vessel. The teacher’s role is to draw out from the student an ability to focus on the sound being produced, a relaxed alertness which physically makes the playing easier and a clarity of intention which is enhanced by an understanding of the structure of the music being played. This threefold model of how people learn music is something I have always found very useful. There is first of all learning from the sound, as can be developed for example by being able to accurately reproduce a melody or rhythm which has just been heard. Some people are amazingly good at this without having any ability in music reading or music theory whatsoever. They need to be encouraged to believe that they are good musicians already; that they have the most important aspect of music learning already well developed. Secondly there is learning from the physical memory. Everyone needs to be encouraged here to practise by mindful repetition. Not repetition for the sake of repetition but repetition with awareness to create a stronger physical memory. On piano the physical memory of a piece is a very complex dance between the hands where there are thousands of very fine precise movements. Thirdly there is the mental clarity of the musical structure. This informs the clarity of the intention behind the playing. Some clear knowledge of the architecture of a piece is necessary to have a clear intention behind the sound in terms of pulse, harmonic movement, dynamics, phrasing and articulation. The teacher is a guide, a coach, a confidant, a trusted ally in the journey through this threefold way of learning. but ultimately of course you have to find your own way through. You have to forge your own relationship with the sound just as with your own body and mind. You have to forge your own understanding of the different possibilities. One of the most interesting factors here with the piano is the use of the sustaining pedal. Many pupils want to know exactly when they should use the pedal, but my view is that the teacher needs to throw the question back with the challenge to listen attentively to the sound and pedal as little or as much as is necessary to make the sound match the intention. Pianos vary so much, as do the rooms in which they live, so in a way all you can offer as a teacher are a few guiding principles and encouragement to listen more attentively. There can be no safety net of knowing exactly what you are going to do with the pedal in a particular piece because as soon as you play it on a different piano in a different room you may well need to do something different. If as a teacher you approach each lesson with the view that you can learn more than the pupil then you will not often be disappointed. It is like meditation - staying present with open heart, open mind, listening, acknowledging the presence of inner demons (both in yourself and the pupil) without either suppressing or projecting them. Awakeness, alertness and openness to experience will keep you listening and learning. And if it doesn’t work for a particular lesson because you are simply too tired or too wrapped up in your own thoughts or feelings then learn from that experience too - and be kind to yourself as well as to your pupil! The best way to develop good listening in your students is to model good listening yourself. The best way to develop better coordination in your students is for you to model good coordination yourself. The best way to develop clear intention in your students is for you to model clear intention yourself. And if you do all this then this will also be the best way for you to learn from the experience and continue to grow on your own path.
18. Prelude and Fugue in G sharp minor from Book 1
SEE THIS IS THE WAY TO
BE YOU CAN BE FREE TO-DAY YOU-
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
Good teaching conveys presence and commands attention. it brings life, energy, clarity to the task in hand, the present moment. In the case of the piano it brings a sense of adventure, of risk, but with the support of sound technique. Like rock climbing with proper equipment and a balanced mind. (or should that be sound mind. Sound technique, sound mind, sounds good….) I remember very clearly once struggling climbing up a scree slope on a modest hill in Lanzarote. Struggling because I was trying too hard, because I was end-gaining, wanting to be at the top already instead of staying with the process, because I was labelling the experience as one I would rather not be having. My partner, who was scampering easily ahead as usual, came back down to me. ‘Imagine the challenge’ she said ‘as a run of demisemiquavers on the piano’. Immediately my attention went to the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat, Op 110. I felt the relaxed focussed energy needed to play that hand-swapping section in flowing demisemiquavers. The climb became easy - nothing externally had changed, but my internal landscape was transformed by virtue of the inner hearing of a piece of music. Good teaching demands good self-awareness. As a Reiki or other alternative practitioner will protect their boundaries before giving a treatment, the good teacher will protect him/herself from being too affected by the pupil’s own inner demons. Demons that make endless excuses, that are harsh critics, that sabotage the joy of being present with the sound now with a fear of making a mistake in the future. The good self-awareness that the piano teacher can offer in a lesson is like the ‘holding the space’ that a meditation teacher will give to a group sitting in silence. But paradoxically this ‘good’ self-awareness means developing an ability to let go of self-awareness altogether! The negative inner stream of thought in some lessons is very familiar - how can this person be so slow/so disinterested/so rude/so unable to hear/so unaware of the sound etc. etc. Don’t they realise I’m giving them MY time?!! This is indeed self-awareness - with a vengeance. But it can be turned around as quickly as my experience on the hillside in Lanzarote. If the internal change of intention can happen so quickly for the teacher then of course it can also happen for the pupil. For example, the pupil is getting flustered about getting a passage wrong repeatedly. Check out what is happening physically as a result of the mental anxiety. Get their eyes off the music. In fact, get them back into a simple awareness of their body in terms of the rhythm of breathing with the eyes shut. From this place, get them to play the passage in question really slowly with real attention to the sound. Sound technique, sound mind, sounds good…… Relaxed mind means relaxed body; tense mind means tense body. It is no more possible to play the piano well with excessive tension than it is to do rock climbing.
19. Prelude and Fugue in A major from Book 1
AND LIS-TEN AND
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
It is very clear from our experience of life that different people experience the same events in very different ways. After seeing a film it is always fascinating to read a selection of people’s reviews online. I remember a film a few years ago called The Tree of Life where I found reviews expressing the full range of responses from ‘one of the most moving/outstanding/brilliant films I have ever seen’ to ‘don’t waste your time on this pretentious crap’. Ostensibly the same external artefact - in this case a film - can bring forth a huge range of human reaction and opinion. Some people are very happy to go along unquestioningly with the emotional trajectory of a film, something which is often made all the stronger by the musical score, whereas others start from a point of view of extreme scepticism about anything which they feel is trying to generate a particular emotional response. Sometimes film scores are so lavish, so intense, that they really dominate the experience. But in other films, the scoring can be quite minimal but deeply effective in creating space for the audience. I remember the amazing power of the music in the film Vera Drake in spite of the fact that it is only present for something like six minutes of a two hour film. To my mind the best films always leave space for different responses from different people, and indeed raise different questions for different people. Moving across to the world of teaching music it is not surprising then that people learn in very different ways. One of the great learning points for a teacher is that a way of explaining something to one pupil does not necessarily work for another at all. In my experience we all have ‘blind spots’, connections in the brain which don’t appear to light up just as we have areas of illumination, connections where everything seems totally clear. As teachers we need to keep on trying to open doors, open connections for different people from different angles. It is also useful as teachers to reflect ourselves on areas of life where we need other people to open connections for us. For instance I have always struggled with understanding diagrams for assembling things together. I need someone to explain the diagrams to me in a clear calm slow and non-judgmental way just as I realise others need various aspects of music theory explained. Just as the seeking for perfection bedevils so many human interactions, it creates a real challenge for music teachers. The pursuit of perfection could be described as a seductive illusion, and yet paradoxically as music teachers we have to keep up the journey, the seeking towards perfection whilst knowing that its attainment is impossible. A good aim for us to have is to nurture this awareness of paradox in our pupils. It is a very subtle balance to steer someone to see that it is worth aiming for something which is impossible to attain. The deeper lesson is that piano playing, just like life, is about the process of flow and energy, not about end-gaining a particular objective. From this sort of perspective, a pupil can really start to make their own connections between their piano playing and the rest of their life with more confidence and awareness. Responses to particular pieces of music, like films, are of course very personal. The music that I have composed relating to the Bach Flower Remedies does not aim to set out an experience which people should have of the particular Remedy but rather a journey which people are invited to take in their own way at their own speed. A few years ago we ran some Musical Remedies sessions which combined art exercises with the Flower Remedy music. The art exercises also proved to be very personal and gave people space to find out what was already present in - or just beneath - the surface of their current awareness. Just as Dr Bach intuited the connections between the way the plants grow and the way mental states arise, the music and art exercises of the Musical Remedies retreat enabled people to intuit their own connections more directly. In the Philokalia, the Desert Fathers talked repeatedly of the need for prayer to move from the mind to the heart. In contemporary mindfulness practice we reflect on the similarity between our mental, emotional and physical experience of constant change, and the fact that we don’t need to identify with any of these changes. Our deeper level of connection is with flow, not with solidity. There is ultimately in Ken Wilber’s phrase ‘no boundary’ between us and the world. In mystical language we already live and breathe ‘in Cristo’, in the universal divine energy. We live in a society where the mental dimension has been given an exaggerated significance. The power of contemporary technology adds to the tendency to strive for perfection. So many more things are possible for us now than even twenty years ago that we start to feel that this perfection is both desirable and achievable. Before we know it, this mentality then gets inside the creative acts of composition, film making, drawing and painting. The Musical Remedies sessions aimed to restore some sense of balance, to use our mental emotional and physical senses in harmony, to see more clearly what is happening in the undercurrent of thoughts which move along with us just underneath the surface, and to realise that our true identity is not with any of this at all. Certain themes keep coming back through these writings in much the same way as themes recur during pieces of music. Through all my years of teaching people on the piano, the most important recurring themes are : BREATHE LET GO STOP TRYING SO HARD BE MORE AWARE OF MENTAL TENSION BE MORE AWARE OF PHYSICAL TENSION AWARENESS - AWAKENESS
20. Prelude and Fugue in A minor from Book 1
THERE ARE THIRTY-EIGHT
THAT DOCTOR BACH DIS-CO-VERED
THE FIRST WAS IM-PAT-I-ENS, THE
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
I think the intention to write twenty-four Preludes and Fugues must have been there in Bach’s mind from the beginning. The project is so bound up with the desire to write a piece in every major and minor key to demonstrate the possibilities of the newly discovered equal temperament. I have no idea at what point the twenty-four turned conceptually into forty-eight. As Bach used Book 1 as teaching pieces in his own practice it has been suggested that the impetus to write a second book of Preludes and Fugues twenty years after Book 1 may have been simply that he wanted to listen to some different pieces when teaching. What is clear is that the decision to write a new book immediately implied the number twenty-four. With Dr Edward Bach and the Flower Remedies the situation was rather different. The journey begins with Impatiens, Clematis and Mimulus. There is no clear sense that this journey will end up with thirty-eight different Remedies. Indeed for a few years Dr Bach was convinced that the number was going to be twelve.The first set, known as The Twelve Healers, gave Dr Bach the view that he had found a complete set of remedy types. He developed the view that every person could be matched with one of these Remedies as a Soul Remedy and that finding the correct Soul Remedy for a particular person would have a profound transformational effect on that person’s life. After working for a few years with the Twelve Healers Dr Bach’s view changed inasmuch as he realised that many blocks in people’s lives needed other energies to work with. Some states of behaviour had become so chronic, so set in people’s lives that knowing the correct Soul Remedy was not in itself sufficient. He discovered the remedy Oak worked well with people who had a chronic tendency to keep going until they collapsed in illness. He discovered the remedy Heather worked well with people who had a chronic tendency to buttonhole people and pour out their whole life story because of a deep loneliness. He discovered that the remedy Olive worked well with people who were so spiritually and emotionally exhausted that the Soul Remedies didn’t appear to work. The ‘Seven Helpers’ that Dr Bach discovered added to the Twelve Healers made a total set of nineteen Remedies. Even at this stage, there was no intimation that a second set of nineteen Remedies were still waiting to be discovered. The journey of discovering what are often known as the ‘Second Nineteen’ Flower Remedies was a much more compressed one, encompassing only a matter of nine months. The mind states that the Second Nineteen deal with are darker and more extreme. When I was composing the Musical Remedy pieces some of them proved difficult to access. In some cases I found that taking the Remedy myself was necessary as a catalyst for tuning into the energy. With other Remedies the musical outline emerged very easily as had happened at the beginning. However, some of these pieces where the outline appeared easily proved more challenging to develop into performance pieces at a later stage of the creative process. The 12 + 7 + 19 way of understanding and grouping the Flower Remedies is not the full story. Near the end of this life, Bach himself organised all thirty-eight Remedies into seven groups - remedies for : loneliness uncertainty fear lack of interest in present circumstances overcare for others oversensitivity despondency and despair Another classification, developed by Phillip Salmon and Anna Jeoffroy relates these seven groups to the classical seven energy chakras in the human body : crown third eye throat heart solar plexus sacral base In contrast to this there has been surprisingly little imagination with regard to grouping the musical pieces in the forty eight Preludes and Fugues. Printed music copies and recordings always seem to follow the standard major - minor pattern and chromatic ascent from C through to B. It is interesting though that when Shostakovich came to write his own set of twenty-four Preludes and Fugues in 1950 after being inspired by hearing the Bach performed live by Tatiana Nikoleyeva he arranged them in the order following the circle of fifths, i.e. from C major and A minor through in the sharp direction and finishing with F and D minor. A few years ago I began to discover energetic links between some of the Bach Preludes and Fugues and some of the Bach Flower Remedies. The initial breakthrough was when practising the Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 1 and being struck by how similar the energy was to that of Impatiens, the first of the Bach Flower Remedies to be discovered. Immediately the energy of the E flat minor Prelude and Fugue from Book 1 presented itself as Clematis, the second Remedy that Dr Bach discovered. The Flower Remedies are as contrasting as the two Preludes are contrasting pieces of music. Numbering, grouping, classification - there is always a fascination in the human mind. However I see this not as an end in itself but as a stage on the journey. For me personally with the forty-eight Preludes and Fugues and the thirty-eight Flower Remedies this remains an ongoing journey of discovery.
21. Prelude and Fugue in B flat major from Book 1
I HEAR THE MU-SIC FLOW
AND THE LAN_GUAGE_ HERE BE-
LOW AND THEY TAKE_ME_WAY BE-YOND THE
PATH I THOUGHT I UN-DER-STOOD AND O-PEN UP THE
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
I remember when I was still a teenager discovering the Duino Elegies of Rainer Maria Rilke in German. There was no way that my German was up to reading his poetry and understanding it conceptually. But this poetry had an extraordinary effect on me, opening up new landscapes and new depths. Years later I remember attending an Orthodox service in Oxford for the first time. The service was all in Church Slavonic and conceptually I understood very little. Yet the overwhelming sense of the acceptance of the dark alongside the light in our experience came through the language at a much deeper non-conceptual level. More recently in my life two other experiences with languages have confirmed my view that the resonance of language communicates at different levels. At the Drubchen in Holy Isle in 2006 I had very little idea or understanding of what was going on. Continual chanting in Tibetan formed the backcloth of an intense experience of ‘re- ordering’. The whole ceremony was dedicated to the removal of obstacles both seen and unseen. It was in the middle of this chanting that I experienced my own ‘re-ordering’ and removal of obstacles. I had a sudden awareness of and connection with someone who was dying that day around 400 miles away. I found out later in the day from the lady’s daughter that the lady who had died had been talking about a special island during her last few hours. I had been granted an experience of something way beyond my understanding. But ￼somehow the chanting in Tibetan had opened up the liminal space within which it could happen. More recently still I attended workshops on the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer and Beatitudes with Neil Douglas-Klotz. Neil is a great scholar and has done a lot of work on the Aramaic language, unravelling layers of meaning which expand the horizons of the more familiar English - or Greek - texts enormously. But for me the experience of chanting the Aramaic was and remains different from chanting in a language which I understand conceptually. The Aramaic opens up a different layer, a different field of energy, which brings the inner living content of the prayers to life in a new way. My experience of music runs parallel to these experiences of different languages. Music speaks to different layers of the psyche, and it is not necessary to understand music conceptually in order to experience its power. Indeed the opposite may be true - that too much emphasis on trying to ‘understand’ music conceptually actually inhibits the human ability to receive the deeper layer of connectedness. To some extent this is true even for the creator of the musical experience, the composer. There is a qualitative difference between mastering various musical techniques of composition and having anything to really say through the musical medium. Good composers will use the techniques they have mastered at the service of a musical vision which goes beyond what can be conceptually explained. In the case of the Bach ’48’ this is particularly relevant and explains why the famous Donald Francis Tovey analyses of the pieces can appear so dry and soulless to anyone interested in articulating their experience of the inner vision of the music. There is a considerable unanimity of experience amongst people who have repeatedly listened to certain pieces of music such as the slow movement of the Schubert String Quintet, the slow movement of Beethoven’s A minor string quartet or the sixth and final movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. With works such as these music functions as a meta-language in the way that meta-physics shows people the possibilities and depth of physics. During the last fifty years - since maybe the writings of people like Fritjof Capra in the 1970s - we have become much more aware of a deep congruence between the languages of contemporary physics and mystical non- dual consciousness. If we move through life as a flow with open mind and open heart then non-dual consciousness is always present as a possibility. If we approach composing, playing, listening to music with the same openness then here too there is always the possibility of breaking through. I have been very conscious when teaching adult music classes that often what people think they want to or need to know or understand is very different from what they actually want and need at a deeper level. So many people are still put off by the world of ‘contemporary classical’ music because they don’t think that they will be able to ‘understand’ it. Yet often the breakthrough comes by persuading them to ‘stand-under’ the music, allowing the music to flow over them and let go of the ‘trying to understand’. Reflecting back myself, this was exactly my own experience with the German, Slavonic, Tibetan and Aramaic examples I have given. ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ as Hamlet says to the philosopher Horatio in Shakespeare’s play.
22. Prelude and Fugue in B flat mInor from Book 1
(---) KEEP LIS-TEN-ING
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
The illusion of control is very clear to anyone who starts to meditate. Until that point we may genuinely have thought that we are in control of what we think; after that point such a thought can only be delusional. It is so clear that the mind ‘has a life of its own’ and connects ideas, memories, fantasies and fears together in a dream-like way regardless of whether we are physically awake or asleep. In a similar way the illusion of solidity is very clear to anyone who starts to understand even the most basic things about post-Newtonian physics. Until then we can act with a sureness in life that the tables and chairs, the bricks and walls around us are solid objects; afterwards, such a thought is once again delusional. The Uncertainty Principle is clear that at the microcosmic level we cannot know at the same time where a particular particle is and how fast it is moving. This leads to the clear and well-established scientific and philosophical truth that the observer changes that which is observed. In other words there is no separate ‘me’ looking at an independently existing and separate ‘world’. There is rather a flow of energy between constantly changing energy-carriers. There is a profound sense in which ‘life’ cannot be pinned down by science any more than it can by religion. Indeed the popular idea of there being a great dichotomy between a scientific and a spiritual understanding of the cosmos is also revealed as delusional. What we have is a constantly changing flow of energy which defies being pinned down and labelled or captured for long enough to say what it is. Like the ancient apophatic theology which refuses to define God in any positive terms but uses language such as ‘inexpressible, incomprehensible, unknowable’, contemporary physics now talks about the vast majority of matter - say 98% - being filled with ‘black holes’. From the pianist’s point of view the relevance of all this is that music is created by the coming together in energy-flow of the composition and the performance. The player can change the sound by the slightest change in intention. When I ask pupils for the first time how they think you make a note louder on the piano the answer is usually something along the lines of hitting the key harder or with more force. The reality is that hitting a note harder or with more force will produce a harsher sound, but the dynamic or decibel level of the sound is dependent on the speed that the key is depressed. The faster you press a piano key down, the faster the corresponding hammer hits the string, the louder the resulting sound. The change in intention here will immediately produce a change in sound. Louder but not harsher, with the added bonus of much less physical energy being expended. Even more striking is the change of sound in a really soft chord once the player really understands their intention is to depress all the notes evenly and slowly. The sound then really sustains and has depth. From here it is just another small step to understanding the significance of weighting notes differently in a chord. A simple three note chord can be played in very different ways by making each of the three notes stronger in turn. This sort of practise of chords is invaluable in developing a more acute ear and a deeper awareness of the impact of intention on the resulting sound. Other aspects of music also come alive in a new way once you begin to look more closely at your intention vis a vis the sound. Articulation, phrasing, inner awareness of pulse - all make so much difference to the resulting experience. One of the most common lapses in awareness among amateur pianists is a difficulty of keeping the pulse steady during rests. In classical music the shortening of rests can completely ruin the architecture of a piece. The way through this is to feel the pulse living and breathing, right through the silence. Maybe like the black holes in the material cosmos which in a mysterious way are holding everything together, silence in music creates the necessary containing structure. The silence immediately before a performance begins and the silence at the end are vital. Think how powerful the silence is at the end of a work like Mahler’s 9th symphony if the audience holds back for a few seconds before releasing into applause. Think how powerful the silences are between the final chords of Sibelius’ 5th Symphony. Try making silences an essential part of your practising - before you play and after you play. And if there are silences in the middle of pieces that you play then always treat them as an essential part of the music.
23. Prelude and Fugue in B major from Book 1
I LOOK FOR OR-DER BUT THE
CHA-OS IN MY MIND
GROWS (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
Once as a teenager I spent two whole days tracking the use of the four instruments in the first movement of Mozart’s String Quartet in G, K387 onto squared paper. It was the sort of exercise that now could easily be done by computer, working out the exact percentages of time that the various possible combinations of instruments in the quartet play for. I remember being totally absorbed in this self-set and by most criteria utterly futile task. And I also remember a real sense of pride and well-being that emerged with the completion of the task. I suppose many people might have developed a whole career from this obsessive tendency. From archers to code breakers to computer programming geeks to cricket statisticians there is probably no limit to the human fascination with order and pattern in numbers. With ‘the 48’ there is a simple satisfaction with the fact that there are twelve notes in the chromatic scale, two modes (major and minor) and two books, making a total of exactly 48 Preludes and Fugues. Repetition of patterns are everywhere. Although we may sometimes think of the universe being chaotic and unpredictable, in fact the same mathematical pattern occurs in a myriad of forms. This is the spiral pattern based on the Golden Ratio which connects with the Fibonacci series of numbers 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144 etc. The power of fractals, where the macrocosm mirrors the microcosm. Take a look at the link below before reading on….. It is not surprising that when it comes to being creative, human beings have also discovered the power of this particular pattern and ratio. And so it is that this pattern is hidden away in a lot of musical compositions, as in the note lengths in the sixth (unison) movement of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du temps. As people become older it seems that the need for pattern, for order, for regularity, becomes greater.Any disruption to routine, however slight, can become a great burden. It is as if we imagine that if we hold on firmly enough to what we ‘understand’ - which is order and pattern - then the business of decay, chaos and death will somehow not affect us. And yet in contrast to this the experience of anyone who has spent time meditating is very different. The mind here does NOT follow orderly patterns, will NOT be tamed into order and controlled to move along pre-set pathways. No, the mind wanders freely, and sometimes very fast, between all sorts of fragments of the past and the future. Meanwhile, the observer watching this movement continually tries to latch onto some events because they seem pleasant or desirable; tries to escape from some other events because they seem unpleasant or undesirable; and otherwise judges the content that arises as bland and boring. This internal mental chaos is the raw material of meditation, and is of course the reason why so many people claim to be ‘no good’ at meditation. They imagine that it should be about having experiences of calm and orderly beauty and simplicity like we see in the Golden Ratio in the natural world. It seems then that the human condition is forever in the midst of chaos and forever seeking order. No wonder the order and pattern of numbers are so desirable. No wonder the music of composers which express order and pattern are so popular. No wonder that lots of people remain resistant to music that they hear no pattern in. As a piano teacher I am used to many people’s fear of improvisation. The way to encourage people here is essentially to build confidence by limiting the possibilities. Thus for instance using three pitches only to improvise is a good starting point, then when people are both confident and starting to feel bored adding a fourth and then a fifth note. Structured improvisation around simple chord sequences, modes and rhythmic patterns can be taught and learnt quite easily. Totally free improvisation, however, is quite a different animal. This is indeed music making thrown into the reality of listening to what is really going on right now, however chaotic it might be. It is not often that totally free improvisation makes for a coherent listening experience, but for the players it can be the most liberating of all forms of music making. We all need to find a balance between discipline and freedom, between order and chaos. We need this to experience both the extraordinary beauty and the immense fragility of the planet that we inhabit. We also need it to connect with one another at a soul level. Music is without doubt a great medium for developing this balance between discipline and freedom, between order and chaos. Enjoy!
24. Prelude and Fugue in B minor from Book 1
BY STAY-ING PRE-SENT ON THE
I WILL FIND THE FLOW (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
Imagine being lost in a forest where there is no clear path through from one side to the other. Several different paths appear, at first glance looking much the same as each other. They go in different directions and you do not know which one to follow. You have a map but you cannot find the key to understand the symbols. This is like the first stages of learning one of the difficult Bach fugues. Seeing notes on the page but not hearing the music is like seeing all the paths in the forest but not seeing how they link up with each other.
Gradually through slow repetition more of the landmarks start to make sense – not just the main subject and countersubject but the way that they sound together. With more repetition you start to hear how three strands work together. It is like seeing how three different paths through the forest all start and finish in more or less the same place yet go on very different ly shaped journeys in between.
The satisfaction of learning a fugue is like the satisfaction of understanding connections – between people, places, emotions, physical sensations, abstract ideas. Countless descriptions of mystical experience across different cultures come back to the sense of an enhanced awareness of the connection between all things. To find this while playing a Bach fugue needs a lot of patient groundwork to be done – because you have to be so sure of all the notes first that you are no longer thinking about notes but are really immersed in the music.
Music is flowing – it is not in the dots on the page that represent isolated notes, but in the space between the dots. The space is where the sound flows, where the sounds join together, where the sense of solidity melts into an experience of fluidity.
Music does not inhabit the Newtonian universe that for the most part we imagine we live in. Rather, it inhabits the quantum universe where it is impossible to define time and position simultaneously. It inhabits the mystical universe where all things are connected without the need to see or understand all the pathways in a conventional way
Once you have learnt a fugue well you can enter the quantum mystical universe and enjoy the ever changing flowing connections that it brings to the ear’s attention. You have undertaken the journey from solidity to fluidity, and the vehicle that keeps you on the journey is that of mindfulness, a simple presence in the moment. No holding on, no holding back.
Take this back to the beginning.
Be mindful of the first steps in the forest, the first subject in the fugue.
Stay mindful during the practising process –
Just staying present
END OF BOOK 1
BOOK 2 FOLLOWS
25 Prelude and Fugue in C major from Book 2
LETTING GO OF ALL THE
MEMORIES AND FANTASIES RIGHT NOW (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
In one of the most paradoxical of Jesus’s teachings he says that it is only by losing yourself that you find yourself. Mystics and contemplatives through the centuries have expanded on this and in our own day there are many writers, of both religious and secular persuasions, that reassert the same fundamental wisdom. It is only by loosening our attachments that we can experience real freedom. Our attachments to possessions, to achievements, to other people, to tribal loyalties (football teams?), to religious loyalties, to ethnic identity, to the whole concept of self altogether. No wonder that it is so hard to loosen all those attachments, all those things which we spend at least the first half of our lives building up. Yet it is the moments - and for most of us it is only the odd moment here and there - in which we let everything go that we do indeed find ourselves at a deeper level. We find ourselves to be part of the continuous flow of energy that we call Life, or if we are used to using mystical language, cosmic consciousness. We find that there is in Ken Wilber’s words ‘no boundary’ between ‘me’ and everything else. We find ourselves by giving up all our attachments to false or partial selves and realising that we are part of the flow. ‘Go with the flow’ as Jesus might have put it in the contemporary idiom. Even the slowest piece of music has some flow to it. Even a single note is a vibration, a frequency where something is happening very many times a second. Even the lowest note on the piano is vibrating at something like 27.5 times per second whereas as pianists we are limited to playing something like 12 notes per second at full speed. To enter into a piece of music as a performer involves a lot of letting go. There are attachments to the visual representation of the music on the page - so often in teaching I have seen people lose their listening completely because they are focussed visually on the dots on the page. There are also attachments to eh position of the hands. Again and again I observe people arriving late on the ‘next’ phrase of music because one or both hands have been left behind, still holding on to something which has gone. more subtly than these examples are attachments to an idea of what the piece should sound like, maybe a memory of a particular recording. There are also attachments to the emotional resonances associated with a particular piece at a particular point in our personal history. (For me, the incredible power of the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony is made even stronger by the personal memory of listening to it on the radio as a teenager at the exact moment when my grandmother suffered a stroke in the next room. ) Only by letting go of all these various attachments will we open up the possibility of experiencing the flow of the music as it really is right now. When we go to a concert to listen there are also many attachments to let go of. Attachment to our expectations, to our memories of how we have heard this music before, to our projections about this particular performer, to how comfortable we are in our seat, to how organised we are about getting home afterwards. Only by letting go of all these will we open up the possibility of experiencing the flow of the music as it really is right now. There is no doubt in my experience that the quality of presence in the performers is the key thing which affects the quality of presence in the audience. When you have been at a concert with this sense of presence you will be amazed how short it all seemed, as if you had been transported beyond time and space. The language of mystical experience comes alive in such a musical experience even for people who have no background of reading mystical writers or any interest in religion. As a performer to an audience presence is the quality that you need above all else. However technically good a performance is it will not come alive to the audience if the performers are in effect playing from ‘memory’ rather than from presence. As a teacher presence is also the most valuable quality. Who are the teachers in your life, in any field, who have really received your attention and admiration? Which are the musical performances in your life that stand out the most? What is the thread that links these stand-out experiences together?
26. Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 2
LOOK WITH YOUR EYES
BEHIND THE CLOUDS-
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject)
One-to-one teaching can be so much more than the passing on of techniques and knowledge. The opportunity is there to open up to a wider sense of consciousness. The relationship between mind and body revealed very closely in teaching piano. So often what appears to be the difficulty is not really the difficulty at all. What appears to be a difficulty for the body - coordinating different combinations of fingers together - has to be tracked back to what is happening in the mind. Any tightening in the mind, any thought which is present explaining that this next passage is difficult, any appearance of the inner critic saying that this is not good enough, any solidifying of the experience - all these have a direct physical consequence. The muscles tighten and the physical coordination needed to play a particular passage is made more difficult to achieve. Seeing the close link between mental demons and the creation of physical tension gives the teacher a way in to open the student to a wider vision of consciousness. A simple image here is that of a flower gradually opening to receive the light. The pianist has to open gradually to receive the music. This is very different from any idea of ‘doing’ something or ‘making’ the music happen. It is more like thinking on a cloudy day, ‘OK - the sun is still there behind the clouds’. I can open up to receive this bigger energy which is coming from beyond what I can see. In approaching a new piece on the piano, have the idea of the music being behind the notes. The notes on the page are like the clouds in the sky; the music has to be trusted in, it has to be received from ‘behind’ the notes. It is not something to be forced, not even something to ‘do’, but rather something to receive. If enlightenment is understood as the realisation of the truth that everything is connected and ultimately united then any path or practice can be used as a vehicle to make the journey towards enlightenment. Teaching and practising the piano is one such journey. Its advantage is that it makes the mind/body connection very clear. It is a journey where sudden insights and disciplined work go hand in hand, a practise where there are rewards on many different levels. Some traditions envisage enlightenment being somewhere in the indefinite future, completely out of reach in terms of present consciousness. Fortunately some traditions see things differently - mystical Christianity, Sufism and Tibetan Buddhism all have an understanding that the experience of non-duality, the becoming-at-one in love is not something for the future but something for the present. The realisation of Buddha-mind and the Kingdom of God are not for some distant time and space, they are for here and now. This is not to say that we will be experiencing them very often. Rather to say that the possibility of experiencing them is always present. To return to our teaching and practising - if we open up to a bigger awareness of consciousness in both ourselves and our pupils we are enhancing the possibilities of breakthrough moments. When music is received from ‘behind’ the notes, when there is an experience of unity between performer and performed, then there is a direct experience, however brief, of the way things actually are. Having this experience even once is sufficient to change someone’s perspective of what is possible. To illustrate this, I share a personal anecdote. I only started teaching piano because of a chance encounter with someone whose name I don’t even remember and whom I never saw again. I was staying with a friend in Germany and we drove out together into the forest to a house where this person lived. While he was doing some business with my friend I played the piano that was sitting there in an adjacent room. After they had concluded their business, the person came through and said : ‘You should be teaching the piano’. That’s all I remember. But I know that when I returned from Germany I put up a few notices about giving piano lessons - and here I am thirty-eight years later still teaching. I am so thankful for this person that I don’t know at all but who clearly heard something and had the courage and clarity to speak. Everything in this book is a part of the fruits of that extraordinary moment.
27. Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major from Book 2
TO FIND A DEEP TRUE
JUST TRUST THE SOUND (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject)
There is a strong need in many people to intensify their experience of life, what we might call ‘ordinary’ or ‘mundane’ life. Ordinary life does not seem to be enough to satisfy the inner seeking for a more authentic experience. Often in the contemporary world this can lead people into destructive patterns of addiction, and there is general agreement that addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, video games or internet pornography are not positive states for anyone to be in. There is a very fine line though between the intention which leads to these addictions and that which leads to such apparently more acceptable things as endurance sports, religious rituals, caving, mountaineering - or maybe even playing PokemonGo! If the intention is to change the experience which is here-and-now into something which is somehow more intense, more valuable, more challenging, more worthy then there is always going to be an element of delusion, an element of trying to escape from what is actually happening. This seems to be at the heart of the dilemma of being human. We can see that on one level everything is present, here-and-now - and that all we need to do is to stop trying to change our experience; in other words accept our experience as it is. On the other hand we also know that on another level there is something which doesn’t feel right enough, deep enough or authentic enough about our present here-and-now experience. This is the part of the mental process that develops the intention to find an activity, an area or arena of action, where we might find what we feel is lacking. It is a common saying that there is a thin line between genius and madness. What I am suggesting here is an extension of this - there is a thin line between what are thought of as wholesome and unwholesome addictions and we can always have a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God…..’ Looking at the experience of playing the piano from this wider perspective we come to see the significance of our intention. Assuming we have practised well, if the intention is clear in our mind to create a particular balance of sound then the combination of our fingers and the instrument itself will produce that sound. If our intention is clear to convey a particular emotional resonance our fingers will find the touch needed to achieve that. If our intention is to convey emotional neutrality then our fingers will find the touch needed to achieve that. If our intention is to be open and receptive to what the music wants to reveal itself then that CAN happen - if we can get our ‘small selves’ or ‘ego selves’ out of the way and allow space for the bigger picture to emerge to reveal itself to the listener. The paradox is that the harder we ’try’ the more difficult it is to achieve. In teaching piano I have seen this time and time again - the one thing which makes more difference than anything else is to steer people away from the intention of trying too hard. Relax the mind, relax the intention, have a sense of receiving the sound for the first time and being open as to where it takes you. As a performer I experienced this very clearly once when playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The performance didn’t start at all to my satisfaction and for the first few minutes I was most definitely trying too hard. Suddenly there was a moment where I consciously let go of the trying and realised I could simply receive the music afresh. The result was a really special performance which the audience responded to very positively. To some people I’m sure this must sound improbably woolly and imprecise. But nothing I am saying here denies the necessity of a lot of practical repetition in the learning phase. It is this repetition which actually constitutes the physical mapping, the coordination of the two hands which will make the playing of the particular piece possible. The paradox of intention in playing the piano is not essentially different from the paradox of living in the human condition. To live happily we have to do a lot of disciplined work on our inner motivation before we can find a deeper sense of freedom, a freedom which in a sense only emerges when we throw the crutches away. At this point of throwing away, as pianists we realise that we don’t need to impose ‘our’ intention on the music at all. We become transmitters of the living language of music which we can trust to work at a deeper level of perception.
28. Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor from Book 2
FIND-ING A PIECE THAT WILL KEEP YOU
ENGAGED WITH YOUR
HEAD AND YOUR HEART - AND EN-JOY (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject)
Some people like to have a piano teacher who tells them exactly what pieces they should be tackling. Other people like to determine for themselves what pieces they want to work on and go to a teacher for advice on difficulties which emerge. As a teacher it is usually much easier if people have a clear idea of what they want to achieve than if they look to you to provide all the direction and motivation. Sometimes, however, it is a good idea with all pupils to make a strong suggestion as to repertoire which they should study. If the suggestion is suitable then almost all pupils will respond positively. And if it is not - well we can all learn from mistakes. But what makes for a suitable suggestion of repertoire, whether you are a teacher of someone else or simply teaching yourself? It may seem obvious but it is important that the choice of piece is not too hard. By this I mean that it is not SO technically demanding that your only possible experience will be one of frustration and a sense of failure. There are still pieces that I feel like this about having never had or made sufficient time energy and patience to make them ‘sound right’ despite many hours of practise. Sometimes I have looked at one of these pieces again - maybe twenty years later - and realised that the reasons why I abandoned the piece were to do with a lack of understanding, impatience, trying too hard; in fact many of the factors that I am exploring in these essays. It is in fact difficult to discern at a particular stage what is too hard for oneself. On the other hand it is also important that the choice of piece to work on is not too easy. If you can sight read a piece through with 100% accuracy that piece is too easy for you to seriously work on unless it is a piece which makes an extra imaginative and musical claim on your attention. With something like the famous opening movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata you may well be able to sightread it accurately but it could still be a really important piece for you to work on to develop your awareness of sound, voicing and inner pulse. With many pieces of comparable technical difficulty, however, they may prove useful as sight reading practise but not warrant taking up your time of serious musical engagement. The repertoire which you choose to work on needs to be music which both challenges you and rewards you. It needs to be musically engaging and it needs to be both intellectually and emotionally satisfying for you to practise. Sometimes you will be able to identify such a piece for yourself from something that you have heard; sometimes you will need the advice of a teacher or trusted friend. As a young teenager teaching myself I remember becoming obsessed with a piece which I heard on the old Third Programme (forerunner of Radio 3). I remember tracking this piece down in a music shop in Birmingham and spending hours and hours trying to get this piece to sound as I wanted it to. It challenged me; it engaged me emotionally and intellectually, and was the cause of many highs and lows in my teenage experience. If I had had a teacher, however, I would not have been given this piece to work on because it was much too hard. It was only years later when I had some lessons as an adult that I began to understand that Chopin’s Ballade in F minor is one of the real greats of the piano repertoire. I have come back to this piece at different stages of my life and still have a powerful relationship with it but I have still never felt sufficiently in control of it to perform it to an audience. There is a paradox here. The Chopin was too difficult for me when I tried to learn it, and yet I still think of it as one of the key stages in my lifelong love affair with the piano. Occasionally as a teacher you have a pupil who is determined to learn a particular piece and who will not be deterred by any amount of being told that it is too difficult. I remember a twelve year old boy once who was determined to play Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer in the original version even though he was not fluent in Grade 2 scales. Despite my protestations that it really wasn’t possible at this stage, he spent months and months working on the piece outside of the lessons until he could prove me wrong. I was amazed - and also really pleased. And I often remember this from many years ago when I have a pupil who wants to tackle a piece which is ‘too difficult’. The most important thing has to be a real engagement with a piece in both the intellectual and the emotional dimensions. If the head and heart are both fully engaged then the body will be prepared to do the work that is necessary.
29. Prelude and Fugue in D major from Book 2
I LOVE THE
IT SPEAKS TO ME (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject)
The vast majority of music in the Western world, both classical and popular, is created out of the same bank of twelve different notes, the notes of the chromatic scale which give us the root notes of the twelve major and minor keys. It often seems extraordinary how so many different pieces of music have been created out of the same twelve notes. Different in terms of all the musical parameters such as tempo, dynamic, articulation, rhythm, melodic shape, harmonic structure, instrumental colour and density of texture. And also different in terms of emotional resonance. Why do some pieces created out of these twelve notes make people cry? Why do some make people laugh? What is that makes some pieces memorable on one hearing and others not on ten? What is it that gives music the power to shape people’s consciousness, to raise the spirits, to inflame the passions, to still the mind? To show people how the same group of notes can produce very different resonances I often get beginners on the piano working by improvising with a simple pentatonic scale. Try this yourself - taking the notes C - D - E - G -A in the right hand and the popular chord sequence C (I), Am (VI), F (IV), G (V) in the left hand. Listen to the sound world and the emotional resonance while you improvise. If you are not confident enough to play two different hands together like this, find a friend and try together! If the left hand creates some form of rhythmic structure, the right hand will feel freer to improvise on the top. Now, taking the SAME five notes in the right hand, move the A an octave lower so that your hands now over the notes A - C - D - E - G. Move the pattern in the left hand so that you play the chords Am (I), F (VI), Dm (IV) and E (V). Improvise again and listen to how the emotional resonance has changed. This is all to do with a change of ‘centre note’ from C to A and the consequent change of feel from major to minor mode. Different modes are different ways of ordering the same group of notes so that the ‘centre’ note changes. This in turn creates a different pattern of tones and semitones, and this registers on our ears as creating a different emotional resonance. If we take the notes of the C major scale but start on the note E then we have a mode where there is a semitone at the beginning. This mode, called Phrygian, is used a lot in Flamenco music and many people will hear something Spanish sounding about this mode without knowing why. If in contrast we take the same notes starting on F, then we have a mode with a sharpened 4th note : F, G, A, B. (A very different sound and feel from the more normal F - G - A - B flat) This mode will resonate with people who know the Bach cantata Es its genug and the Berg Violin Concerto where it is quoted. Gabriel Faure’s song Lydia also uses this mode very appropriately as the name of the mode is the Lydian. Generally speaking, however, improvising in this mode will create more of a modern jazz resonance than a classical resonance - the sharpened fourth, especially when combined with a major seventh chord (e.g. F - A - C - E) creates a harmony which is full of dissonance but which sounds emotionally very rich. Obviously when it comes to composing or songwriting an understanding of different modes and different harmonies broadens the emotional palette. However, many emotionally powerful pieces of music use amazingly simple material. The simple descending scale that makes the theme in the famous Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. The simple repeated arpeggios patterns at the beginning of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The simple chord progression of the opening to Handel’s Zadok the Priest or Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The reason certain pieces of music are played over and over again has to be because people respond emotionally to them. Schoenberg really believed that by the twenty-first century we would be going round whistling twelve-tone or atonal music. We are not. This is not to say that there is not an enormous emotional power in atonal music, but it is to say that for most people the simple diatonic scales and harmonies have a more direct emotional impact. (And sadly very few people seem to whistle any more anyway…..) The emotional resonance of the different Bach Preludes and Fugues takes time to reveal itself. This is not music which gives up its secrets on one hearing but rather rewards the player or listener who stays with it for a long time. What I have been personally rewarded with here is a deep sense of emotional connection between particular Preludes and Fugues and particular Bach Flower Remedies. It has and continues to be a fascinating and intriguing journey.
30 Prelude and Fugue in D minor from Book 2
THIS IS THE WAY THAT THE EN-ER-GY
MOVING FORWARD EVER FORWARD
I HEAR IT (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject)
For a lot of people on the piano the problem is not so much about playing the right notes as about letting go of the right notes. It may seem very obvious but it is always worth pointing out that it is impossible to repeat a note on the piano without letting go. While a note is being held down the hammer is not physically able to hit the string again and therefore no further sound can be made with that note until it has been released. If you learn this from a single note on the piano then you can apply it to every note. Let go - release - allow the hand to be free - move the hand to be ready for the NEXT note - allow the music to flow like a river. Sometimes it feels that the verbal content of a piano lesson is just a succession of cliches : E_GO - LET GO - LET GOD
Or more prosaically…… Once you have a note sounding, release your intention towards the NEXT note so that your hand can be ready to PLAY the next note and keep the music flowing forwards.
Or more mystically……. Allow each sound its space without interference from the ‘solid’ intention of ego so that the music can reveal the underlying divine flow which is always present.
In meditation, sound can be used as a mindfulness support, something which the conscious mind can use to bring back the attention to the present spaciousness. The breath can be used in a similar way, something which the mind focusses on as a tool for restoring a spacious awareness of the present moment. But sound seems to me particularly powerful in this regard because it is always changing. Becoming more aware of the soundscape of the present moment is a great discipline for learning the piano - and an excellent pre-practise ritual. For thirty seconds before playing a single note tune your attention in to whatever sounds are present both in the room and entering in from outside. You will then begin your practise with your ears open and receptive. In this state you are much more likely to remember to let go with your fingers to hear the flow of the music moving forwards. Remember - whether you are practising on your own in your own house or playing in front of a large audience - you need to be an attentive listener, tuned in like a radio receiving signals at the right frequency open to the new reality of the present moment Letting go of the notes physically is a strong metaphor, a reminder to let go mentally. When you have really taken this on board you will be able to let go of ‘wrong’ notes as well as ‘right’ notes and not allow ‘mistakes’ to get in the way of the present reality of the piece as it unfolds. (Connecting directly with this point I would highly recommend reading the book The perfect wrong note - Learning to trust your musical self by William Westney ) Playing the piano can then become a metaphor for life itself, a microcosm of how different our lives would be if we continually practise ‘letting go’.
31. Prelude and Fugue in E flat major from Book 2
O-PEN THE DOOR
THE SE-CRET OF THE MIND
THE POR-TAL OF THE HEART
(AND THERE IN-SIDE IS THE
GATE TO HEAVEN) (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
To some people there is a natural connection between mathematical and musical ability; to others maths and music seem to occupy very different parts of the brain. To someone who struggles with music theory but has an ear that can take a song in at one hearing and reproduce it note for note the maths will probably seem quite irrelevant. But to a composer fascinated by numbers the riches of mathematics are as infinite as the series of prime or Fibonnaci numbers.
I remember being astonished when I suddenly realised in the sixth movement of Messiaen’s great Quartet for the End of Time – the unison movement – that the apparently random collection of note lengths were actually composed and presented as a set of perfect palindromes. 3 + 5 + 8 + 5 + 3, 4 + 3 + 7 + 3 + 4, 2 + 2 + 3 + 5 + 3 + 2 + 2 and so on. In a totally different context, I remember the excitement of understanding that the well known West African bell pattern, which can be symbolised * - * - ** -* -* -* actually has the beat or pulse on every third note *--*--*--*--. When you hear these two together, there is this wonderful sense of two different metres being heard simultaneously even though the whole pattern can be understood easily enough in Western terms as a repeating pattern of twelve fast semiquavers. Try it for yourself and see – tap the bell pattern with your right hand on right knee, and the pulse with left hand on left knee. It’s fun!
For explaining the real difference between 3/4 and 6/8 time – which is something a lot of amateur students of music find quite confusing – there is no better example than the opening of the song America from Bernstein’s Westside Story. One bar in 6/8 with 2 beats followed by one bar in 3/4 with three beats. Same duration, but totally different feel. It’s always a great feeling as a teacher when you see someone suddenly understanding this directly. This is not paper knowledge, but real musical knowledge.
Many mathematicians through the ages have devoted years and years of their lives to discovering proofs which only a tiny number of people in the world understand., But for the wider population, surely the more important thing than proof is fascination. And one of the groups of people most fascinated by numbers are composers. This was as true in the medieval world as it is in the contemporary world. It is as true in the world of Indian music as it is in the West. The link between pattern in number and pattern in sound is a deep one in the human experience. Maybe it is a way of connecting with our own physical reality, the changing pulse rate of our material existence.
32. Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor from Book 2
THIS TIME, THIS HERE AND NOW___
____I O-PEN UP MY MINE AND HEART
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
Before the beginning of the Liturgy in the Orthodox Church there are a whole set of prayers and rituals (Proskomidia) which the priest presides over. They are a dedication of all that is to follow. They serve to ground the Liturgy in THIS place at THIS moment in time. Yet paradoxically they also serve to put the Liturgy into a much larger context by making connections to other dimensions - to angelic beings, and to family and friends who have already died. Before the beginning of every meditation a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner will dedicate the session by remembering the lineage of teachers. This connection to a wider dimension also serves to give both a particular and a universal relevance to the period of time which is to come. We might in a different context think of the preparations that a rugby player will go through before taking a penalty kick, the way a tennis player will bounce the ball repeatedly before serving, the way an archer will prepare every time before releasing the arrow. Musical performers vary as to their way of preparing to begin a concert. But there is no doubt that from an audience perspective it is possible to receive a strong sense of presence from a performer before a note is played. A performer who takes time to in some way dedicate the performance to come creates a bigger sense of space for the audience to inhabit. They will also thereby give the audience - both individually and collectively - time to dedicate this time in their own ways. (And simple as it sounds taking this preparation time is a radical act in the contemporary world where we are encouraged to think that there are only ten seconds to ‘grab someone’s attention’ before they move on to the next distraction.) Teaching also benefits from an act of dedication, however brief or simple. An acknowledgment that THIS time here and now is the most important time, that THIS person is the most important person. To anyone who has a base in a strong spiritual tradition this is maybe quite obvious - many traditions are used to using simple prayers or rituals before everyday activities. But there is a danger here too - such prayers or rituals can become so familiar that they become mere externalised words or actions without the inner content being experienced. Seeing this, the modern secular world will say that we have no need of such mumbo-jumbo. Very soon, we find the whole point and purpose of the dedication time has been forgotten altogether. So what is the whole purpose of the dedication time? It is like the purpose of taking deep breaths and counting to ten when angry. It is to enable the contemplative mind to emerge and the reactive mind to recede. It is to enable a deeper sense of presence to be realised. In the musical context, teaching a pupil to consciously breathe and wait a few seconds before beginning a concert or exam performance will make a real difference. And if you are going to teach it to your pupils then you first need to teach it to yourself. And you need to practise it yourself! I know from my own experience that meditating before practising the piano every morning makes a real difference to the quality of presence, the quality of aural attention to the sound, the quality of physical attention to the fingers and hand shapes, and the quality of intellectual attention to the musical structures. Good teaching, like good performance, needs a high quality of presence. Think of the minute before giving a lesson as a breathing space to connect to the flow of energy which can grow through and continue beyond the lesson in both you and your pupils. Endings are important as well of course. I have sometimes witnessed young performers so eager to get off the stage and out of the limelight that they cut the last note short and get up without acknowledging the audience at all! On the other hand those occasions where a pianist - or even a conductor with a full symphony orchestra - holds the silence after the last note of a performance and the audience collectively wait several seconds to applaud can be enormously powerful.
33. Prelude and Fugue in E minor from Book 2
EACH NOTE IS FLOW-ING
When beginning on the path of meditation, the propensity of the mind to move rapidly around in a game of free association can seem like a real drawback. Indeed it is enough to put many people off - ‘I tried meditating once but I was no good at it’ . When it comes to embarking on a creative project, however, this same propensity of the mind to free-associate is a vital and positive part of the energy to be harnessed. This project began from a series of 48 Post-it notes placed on a large white sheet in four colour-coded groups of twelve. Each Post-it note then became a vehicle for the free association of ideas around certain central themes. Similarly with the composition process - the initial spark comes from the free-associating mind, not the rationally weighing and sifting mind that comes in later. Music is an amazing activity for engaging the right and left sides of the brain together. Nowhere is this clearer than in thinking about pulse and rhythm. The feel of the pulse of a piece of music does not lie in the 1 2 3 but in the spaces in between. It is essential to feel a sense of both accent and duration. Without those, no amount of counting beats will produce music with any inner rhythm. When you hear music that speaks, that communicates emotion, that moves you, this experience is happening in real time which is flowing time which is what mystics call the eternal now. The music moves from one beat to the next to the next to the next without losing connection. The performer is present, the listener is present. We are all learning to hear the spaces just as when we feel good when we stand by running water it is because at some level of our being we are experiencing a heightened consciousness of the spaces between things. In what we often take to be ‘normal’ consciousness we experience ‘reality’ as being composed of a set of discrete objects with us viewing them or listening to them as an independent observer. With everything unfolding along a clear linear time line. With heightened consciousness, however, we experience ‘reality’ more closely to how physicists now understand the world to be. If we find it helpful we can call this a mystical consciousness, but it is definitely something that we can break into at any moment from any situation. When this breaking into a more universal consciousness takes place through playing or listening to music it is because the mind is free to experience what is really happening - which is constant change. The sound of a note on the piano is not a steady state but a constant flux changing in dynamic and colour. The decay in the sound is a given from the nature of the instrument itself. Pulse has to be steady to create space in which the music can come to life. This is surely what Chopin meant when he told his pupils that the left hand must remain regular like a metronome while the right hand should sound completely improvised. This is how jazz works too - the simultaneity of order and freedom, discipline and chaos, left and right brain working together. The energy of mental free-association being harnessed to a framework of stability.
34. Prelude and Fugue in E minor from Book 2
FIRST I HEAR THESE
NOTES AND FORM
THEN I PRAC-TISE
AND I PRAC-TISE
AND I SLOW-LY DIS-CO-VER THE WAY THAT THE
NOTES COME TO-GE-THER
TO MAKE THE MU-SIC (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)
There is no doubt that people approach the learning of music in many different ways. Listening to a recording several times over and then slowly working it out, phrase by phrase, on piano or guitar is a very different method from interpreting a complex set of visual symbols on a written page. And often people who are very good at the former are not at all good at the latter – and vice versa.
It took me a long time – and a lot of experience of teaching – to realise that the ability to read Western classical music easily is not in itself a musical skill at all. (I think it is has more in common with being good at algebra or playing bridge) Indeed it can be quite dispiriting to teach someone who reads all the notes and rhythms accurately but who has no feel for or even interest in the subtleties of dynamics, phrasing and articulation which make music come alive.
I often explain to pupils that there are three very different ways in which we learn music, and that ideally all three need to nurtured in parallel.
First of all, we need to understand that music is in the sound itself, not in the symbols on the page. In that sense, the person who naturally learns music by copying what they hear has a head start over the person whose first way into music is from dots on a page. We will only produce the sounds – whether with our voice or on an instrument – that we can already hear internally. “Intention’ makes a huge difference to the sounds that we produce.
Secondly, we have to develop the physical coordination and precision to play a particular pattern of sounds. This can be very complex on the piano where several different notes are sounded together, and particularly in contrapuntal music like the Bach fugues where there are several different ‘horizontal’ pathways to coordinate at the same time as the ‘vertical’ need to voice chords so that some notes are stronger than others. The level of complexity can be quite overwhelming for the mind, but the physical body has a way of learning by gradually assimilating information and repeating the process over and over again. Small children do not ‘give up’ on learning to walk just because they keep falling over, but lots of people are prone to ‘give up’ on being better pianists because they don’t take enough ime to practise, to repeat a particular set of physical movements often enough and slowly enough for the body to assimilate what is needed.
Thirdly, learning music is made much easier by an openness to engage with understanding the structures involved in the composition. This may be as simple as understanding the alternating pattern of verse and chorus in a popular song. It may be as complex as unravelling a four or five part fugue. The important thing is not the level of complexity but the openness of the mind to engage with the process.
Of the three ways, the fhird seems the least important at the early stages of learning. Its importance increases in significance, however, as more musical progress is made.
35. Prelude and Fugue in F major from Book 2
HERE IS THE
ONE HERE IS THE
MAP THEM TO-
GE-THER AND SEE WHERE THEY
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
I have long been intrigued and excited about the possibilities of mapping one set of paradigms onto another apparently totally different set of paradigms. The Bach to Bach project, mapping the Bach Flower Remedies onto the Bach Preludes and Fugues is in this sense a natural exploration to make. There are all sorts of connections between things, but we have to ‘tune in’ in order to hear them. The Bach to Bach connection, however, did not come from a strategy, an idea or even a vision. It emerged from an experience of musical energy. While practising the Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 1 of Das Wohltempierte Clavier I suddenly felt the Impatiens quality of the energy. I instinctively and intuitively went to the very different Prelude in E flat minor from book 1 and immediately felt the change of energy to Clematis. These were, as we have already seen, the first two of the Flower Remedies to be discovered by Dr Edward Bach, and so it is perhaps not surprising that these were the first two of my Bach to Bach connections to reveal themselves It has always seemed very simplistic - and indeed dangerous - for any one religion or ideology, one way of seeing and understanding reality, to claim a monopoly. And yet that is where so much of our Western thinking seems to remain, whatever the religious, scientific or political flavour. Sadly in the music world also it is still quite commonplace for musicians of one genre to have little or no regard for musicians of quite different genres. There are still many classically trained musicians who do not explore the popular music world at all and who always remain really scared of improvising. There are many excellent young musicians in the pop and jazz worlds who have no interest in exploring the world of classical music, and many who are scared of the discipline needed to learn to read traditional music notation. In both directions this narrowness is sad because it comes from a closing down rather than an opening out of possibilities. The intention behind mapping is to counter the prevalence of either/or thinking and open to the both/and possibilities. The serious application of traditional Eastern both/and logic to modern Western either/or dilemmas. But serious does not mean that it is not fun! The mapping of quantum physics onto Dionysius the Areopagite’s thinking about orders of angels creates spaciousness in the mind - about the deep relevance of both to understanding the ever-changing but eternally-the-same reality. Richard Rohr’s mapping of the Enneagram onto the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer creates spaciousness for the prayer to resonate differently for different personality Types. Tsultrim Allione’s mapping of the ancient Tibetan practice of Chod onto the Western psyche’s need to do real work with the Shadow is really powerful and transformational. Real work which could yet prove to be of enormous importance in converting the catastrophic urge of humanity to self-destruct. In the musical world mapping like this has been around a long while, some examples much more successful than others. Think of the central section of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia with its amazing journey through Western music on the back of Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt, Mahler’s song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn which he used in his second Symphony. Think of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass with the mapping of both rock and blues numbers and atonal orchestral interludes onto a traditional Catholic Mass. Think of the extraordinary mapping of sexual and spiritual energies onto a simple chord with harmonics in Stockhausen’s Stimmung. These are inspirational examples of what is possible. Bach to Bach, then, is an example of a way of thinking to inspire you to explore in your own way. Receive, explore, transform. See where it leads you. See what connections you can find. If ultimately we are all connected, then there must be m. I recently attended an evening with performance poet Ian MacMillan. Taking a few randomly chosen words and phrases from members of the audience, Ian improvised a magnificently surreal story in the form of rhyming couplets. Unseen and unimagined connections brought to life.
36. Prelude and Fugue in F minor from Book 2
I PLAY MY DRUM NO
WORDS I NEED TO MAKE THIS
GROUP START MA-KING MU-SIC AND
SO-WING THIS SEED-
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
I have taken part in many piano masterclasses and workshops and the experience can be really inspirational. However, at other times it can be quite deadly. The experience depends to a huge extent on the skills and awareness of the leader/teacher/facilitator. Not so much the instrumental skills but rather the skills that are involved in doing different things at the same time and in communicating with different people at the same time. At the beginning of a workshop, just like any sort of public meeting, most people beyond a very young age will tend to indulge in low level unfocussed chatter. (Observe for yourself when you next get an opportunity). The leader/teacher/facilitator then usually makes some signal for attention, the group falls silent, and then people all look to the leader/teacher/facilitator for instructions as to what happens next. One of the workshops I learnt most from was a percussion workshop with four leaders and around thirty participants. I remember my usual feelings of frustration that people were chattering away and also that none of the leaders seemed to be doing anything to indicate that we should be starting the workshop. Even one of the leaders seemed to be just playing his own drum at random instead of starting the session…….. But then suddenly I realised. He wasn’t playing his own drum at random - he was repeating a very specific pattern on his drum and looking intensely at people one by one around the circle until he found someone who understood that they should join in the same rhythm on THEIR drum. By the time I cottoned on there were about six people already playing, twenty four still chattering waway, not present to what was actually happening. Then soon afterwards there was a tipping point of consciousness - and within around a minute everyone was playing. The leader then switched to a different rhythm and indicated for half of the group to change to the new pattern. When two simultaneous rhythms were established and he was confident that the group understood what was happening he introduced a third and fourth rhythm indicating with arm movements who was to play the new rhythms. With four different rhythms all established we moved round the room playing our parts and experiencing the whole soundscape that was emerging- ever changing but from the same simple material. This was one of the most powerful teachings I have ever received - and not a word was spoken from beginning to end. In contrast, I have been to a masterclass where a great pianist has talked with immense authority about the fine details of a particular movement of a Beethoven sonata to one student - and totally ignored everyone else in the room. However, I have also been to a masterclasses where another great pianist has had the amazing ability to treat the one person playing as really special at the same time as addressing the entire group twenty or thirty people present and drawing out general musical points through practical illustrations and stories. The quality of the teaching in these group music situations is not to do with words or knowledge or technical ability. It is rather to do with presence and flexibility. Staying present with what is happening while it is happening, and staying with a spacious awareness of all the other people present too. Good teaching like this is priceless - we cannot measure teaching like this in terms of exam results but we can see its potential to open people’s awareness and transform people’s lives.
37. Prelude and Fugue in F sharp major from Book 2
HIDE I AM
CO-MING TO FIND YOU AND
TURN YOUR EN-ER-GY TO-
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
In any form of inner growth exploration there is a shocking realisation that we are our own worst enemies. So often what prevents us from moving forwards is not primarily to do with other people or external circumstances at all but rather the demons in our own heads. Most of us are effectively more able to sabotage our best intentions and aspirations than anyone else is. There is a lot of power locked into the inner demons of self criticism, self limitation and self aggrandisement. Somehow we all need to find ways of working to convert this energy for more positive development. Otherwise what tends to happen is either suppression or projection. We either suppress the demons to the extent that we refuse to acknowledge their existence or else we project them outwards in a never-ending stream of scapegoating other people or institutions and externalising both blame and responsibility. This is vital work in playing and teaching the piano because the main obstacle to better playing is always a combination of inner demons. Fear of a difficult passage to come can often cause mistakes to happen in an easier passage beforehand. Why? Because as soon as you lose presence because of something in the future you are playing on autopilot. And although playing on autopilot may go well for a while it does not have the real intelligence to deal with the ever-changing circumstances of the actual present moment. Think of it like this - if you are walking along a flat pavement and there are few people around and you know exactly where you are going you will be fine on autopilot unless something really unexpected happens. But if you are walking in hills and there’s a swirling mist and you don’t know your bearings you will need to be much more acutely present in order to look after yourself and survive. Similarly on the piano. You can almost certainly play easy familiar pieces on autopilot but if you do so you are not training yourself to develop strategies for being more present when you are tackling something more demanding. It is not good ‘practice’. Good practice in playing the piano comes down to the same as good practice in walking, cooking, reading, conversing with friends or even using the computer - mindfulness and presence. But what about the demons? Well, the demons need to become part of our practice too. Sometimes in giving a lesson on the piano it is possible to point out a demon to someone - maybe a tense wrist, a locked jaw, a constriction of breath, an abiding sense of fear, an over excitement, an unnecessary intensity, an exaggerated detachment, a distracted mind- and almost immediately the person is able to understand what they need to do. At other times it can seem impossible to get through. I once taught someone whose response to any pointing out of ‘demons’ whatsoever was to start the piece all over again from the beginning and make all the same errors as before in an even more determined way. I was aware then that I lacked strategies to help this person break through this impasse, and indeed I think that much of my journey to find ways to break through has come from these sorts of experience. These reflections are not about prescribing solutions but about opening horizons so the following selection of journeys of exploration is for you to follow up as you will. Some journeys will be right for some people and not for others. To be more precise, some journeys will be right at this moment for some people. If something resonates with you in this way then follow it up. If something does not resonate then leave it alone. Preferably in a quiet way which doesn’t make value judgments and which leaves the way open to return at a later date. Enneagram Karen Webb, Helen Palmer, Richard Rohr, Sandra Maitri, Beatrice Chestnut Five Rhythms Gabrielle Roth Aramaic language Neil Douglas-Klotz Tibetan Buddhism Pema Chodreon, Tsultrim Allione Apophatic spirituality Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton In the end everything comes down to mindfulness. Know what is happening while it is happening whatever it is. Applying this to your piano playing makes more difference than anything else. A change in intention which comes from a change in presence makes a change in the sound. And remember - the music is always in the sound, not the dots on the page!
38. Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor from Book 2
I PRAC-TISE EV-ERY DAY
THAT THIS WILL HELP ME TO GROW
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
Pupils and parents of pupils will often ask how long they should be practising. Far more important than the amount of time, however, is regularity. It is much better to practise ten minutes every day than an hour and a half once a week. Why? Playing the piano is a training parallel to that of an athlete, a yogi and an academic scholar. All at the same time. The yogi spends hours in meditation to become more aware of what is actually happening right now. The athlete spends hours running, swimming, lifting weights, stretching muscles to enable the body to perform better in particular ways. The scholar spends hours reading and analysing patterns of thought to enable the mind to become clearer about a particular subject. Playing the piano needs the development of all three strands - the listening awareness of the yogi, the physical acumen and coordination of the athlete, the clarity of thinking and understanding of the scholar. The only way to develop these different strands is by regular practise. To begin with each practise session should be very short and focused. * Prepare with thirty to sixty seconds listening meditation and thirty to sixty seconds physical release of tension - especially wrists and shoulders. * Stop practising before you lose focus. I am never impressed by people who say they practise scales for two hours a day as I am very aware that much scale practise comes down to a mere physical auto-pilot way of working without real inner listening. On the contrary, I AM impressed by people who develop intelligent and innovative ways to practise scales and do so for five to ten minutes each day. Some ideas here might be to play one hand legato, one hand staccato - or one hand in duplets, the other hand in triplets - or one hand forte, the other piano. Methods like these demand real focus, real listening, and will repay you handsomely with rewards in real music. Most people who come for piano lessons will have some excuses for why they haven’t practised enough. They will often have meant to practise more - but other things happened and so they didn’t practise! There will often be an undercurrent of guilt or shame about the whole thing - they are concerned that someone is not going to be pleased with them. And yet the person who is really displeased is usually their own ‘inner critic’. The voices in the head which can say one day that ‘there’s no point in you practising that because you’re not good enough to get anywhere’ and then the next day say ‘there’s no need to practise that again because you can already play it’. The fact is that for most of us the inner critic always remains displeased. We need to have a good laugh at them and move on. Let’s be quite clear about this. If you are serious about playing the piano you will need to practise. This is not a moral issue; this is just how it is. If you want to stay alive, you have to eat. If you want to improve your piano playing you have to practise. You have to develop your inner listening, your physical coordination and your structural understanding. In the end, there are no short cuts. Practise, then, must become non-negotiable. Not something that you do when you feel like it but something that you do every day, preferably at the same time every day. To many people this will sound much too proscriptive - but these same people will happily eat and sleep at much the same time every day, so why not practise the piano? Develop a pattern - one which works for you. I now practise Bach Preludes and Fugues in the morning after meditating. A Romanian piano teacher friend practises Chopin every evening after finishing her teaching. Experiment - find out what works for you - and then stick with it. Decide that you will follow this rhythm for say six months and then re-evaluate. Enjoy!
39. Prelude and Fugue in G major from Book 2
AND SO TO FIND A /
PIECE THAT IS A CHALLENGE/
ONE THAT'S RE-A-LIS-TIC
TAKE YOUR TIME AND LET THE/
MU-SIC TAKE YOU ON A/
JOUR-NEY THROUGH THE YEARS AND/
YOU WILL FIND GREAT_/JOY
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
There is such a huge repertoire of music for the piano that it is important to be realistic about what you decide to tackle. If you are determined to learn all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas then you are not going to have much time for anything else in life unless you have a really exceptional talent. On the other hand if you pick a few of the sonatas out - maybe with the help of a teacher or musical mentor - and stay with them for a long enough while - then you are being realistic. Idealism may have its place in the grand scheme of things but in the area of choosing repertoire realism is more likely to result in a joyful and fulfilling experience. The great piano works of the Western tradition continue to bring joy and insight throughout life. If you have learnt Beethoven’s Op 110 as a teenager - as I did - then re-visiting it in later decades brings new joy and new insight because the whole experience of life has grown deeper as well as broader. On the other hand some other pieces - like for example the Chopin Fantaise-Impromptu - seem to be young person’s pieces and you may be disappointed when re-visiting them with the growing insight of later decades. The first set of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues was written by a composer in his thirties; the second set by a composer in his fifties. And it is true that whilst I learnt a number of the pieces from Book 1 when I was younger it was only in my fifties that I invested much time in Book 2. is this a coincidence? Or another example of discovering emotional resonance? Of course many great piano composers did not live beyond their thirties - Mozart, Chopin, Schubert. yet there are works by all of them that seem beyond the limitations of time or age and that can be returned to again and again during a lifetime of playing. I have re-visited such pieces as Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K511, Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, and Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat at frequent intervals during forty years and they never fail to reveal new depths and insights. There are other pieces that I feel I have re-visited with the wrong intention, and the inevitable result is more frustration. By wrong intention, I mean the tendency to want to master, to conquer, to capture as another trophy of success. Perhaps the thing to learn from these is that failure to get on top of a piece - and I am thinking particularly here of pieces that I really wish I had the skill to play like Rachmaninov’s Prelude in B flat and Albeniz’s El Polo - reveals a lot about the inner working of the mind. The main reasons for not mastering a piece I can now recognise as : Not being realistic about the complexity of coordination required Not being realistic about the amount of time necessary to invest Wanting too much to ‘get to the end’ Lack of patience Not staying sufficiently focused Being realistic does mot mean backing out of setting yourself a challenge. It means selecting a challenge which engages you and where you can see gradual progress. A challenge which you can return to again and again at different stages of life. A challenge which you can enjoy as process rather than seeking to complete. The piano repertoire is vast. you will get most reward by selecting a few pieces that really speak to you and returning to them again and again.
40. Prelude and Fugue in G minor from Book 2
LET GO THE
DO NOT NEED TO HOLD IT
IN YOUR BO-DY
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
One key thing to look out for when beginning to teach someone on the piano is unnecessary physical tension. Sometimes this is very easy to spot as in a raised shoulder or a clenched jaw. Sometimes it is just a sense from the sound that is being produced that there is a lot of holding onto tension in the back of the hand. Before beginning to play at all it is a good idea to become aware of what is happening in the body. There are many ways to connect with this - a short silent meditation, some deep breaths, some simple stretches or Tai Chi exercises. Anything which works for you to give you a direct experience of what is happening here and now in your body. From this experience beginning to play the piano is much more likely to be an experience of mindful awareness of what is actually happening in the body. All the physical tensions that people exhibit when playing the piano are reflections of mental tensions which arise in the thought of playing. But to work directly with the stream of thoughts is much more difficult for anyone without considerable experience of meditation, and so to work with the body more directly makes sound pragmatic sense. After your initial body awareness exercise, whatever it may be, try playing a simple scale as slowly as you need to to stay both really relaxed and aware of every movement that you are making. Try to be aware of the ‘intention’ that precedes every sound. Can you inwardly hear the sound that you want to produce? Are you then hearing that sound when you connect with the keys? Be vigilant for any experience of physical tension or holding on. Investigate where it is coming from. Can you identify the last thought that you experienced before becoming aware of the tension? To begin with it is difficult to achieve this level of awareness without a guide. Eventually, however, this is something that you need to develop for yourself and by yourself. It is a way into practising which will transform the sound that you make. Play some pieces that you feel very comfortable with and enjoy both the physical sense of ease and the sound that is produced. The hard step is to move on to practising something which is technically more challenging without losing the awareness that you have now developed. For this you need time, patience and clarity. Time to enjoy the process, time to go really slowly, time to sort out the best fingering precisely, time to try out each hand separately, time to be aware of your body and its pattern of tension. Give yourself permission to go really slowly - something which we find so difficult to give ourselves in the modern Western world. Patience to be kind to yourself, patience to stay with the process when difficulties arise, patience to try out different fingerings when the first one fails to work, patience to observe in a detached way without emotional attachment to success or failure. Clarity of analytical thinking about the hand movements that are needed, clarity about listening to the sounds that are produced from the piano, clarity of intention, clarity of understanding the musical structure.
41. Prelude and Fugue in A flat major from Book 2
I FEEL THE PULSE ANDTHE RHY-THM
PLAY-ING THIS TUNE__
I THINK THIS REAL-LY IS QUITE EA-SY
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
I have always been fascinated by numbers. When I was a child I would walk up and down suburban streets checking all the house numbers, intrigued by the absence of number 13s, and again by one particular street where there were several even numbers missing as well. Maybe it was just a mistake - I never got to the bottom of this! Later on I was fascinated by other series of numbers - the perfect numbers 6, 28, 496 etc.; the Fibonacci numbers 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 etc. ; the perfect cube numbers 1,8,27,64 etc. Most of all, I was fascinated by the numbers which I still don’t really understand like e and i, the imaginary square root of minus 1. Many composers have been fascinated by numbers too, and indeed patterns based on the Fibonacci numbers can be found in many pieces of music. But of course some numbers are more common in music than others - the 5 notes of the pentatonic scale, the 6 notes of the whole tone scale, the 7 notes of the diatonic scale, the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. The 2 beats in a bar of duple time, the 3 beats of the waltz and minuet, the 4 beats of rock music, the 5 beats to a bar of sections of famous pieces like Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony - and of course the Dave Brubeck hit Take Five. Being musical, however, is nothing to do with counting beats. Often, counting gets completely in the way of listening. It can be very confusing having an amateur conductor say 1 - 2 - 3 -GO rather than clearly signalling where the first beat of the bar actually is. A common mistake amongst pianists who are over fond of counting beats is that when the music comes to a rest the counting will speed up. It is as if people simply cannot believe that the pulse needs to remain steady during a silence. The pulse of a piece of music needs to be internally heard and felt. If the ‘counting’ part of the brain dominates over the ‘listening’ part of the brain the pulse will almost inevitably speed up and the flow of the music will be disturbed. Counting needs to happen in a sort of different dimension so that the awareness of the pulse is in the foreground and the awareness of counting is in the background. This is why a good conductor does not count a group in but rather gives a clear indication of the pulse. Before you start playing a piece on the piano, find the pulse, feel the pulse of the music by playing a couple of bars from somewhere later in the piece as an imaginary soundtrack in your head. This will establish the pulse clearly in your conscious awareness. If you are playing a rhythmically complex piece you will also need to feel clearly the divisions of each pulse and be able to switch your awareness from dividing the pulses into two to dividing the pulses into three. Regular work on this away from the piano is highly recommended. You do not need an instruments for this other than your own body which is always with you - so there are no excuses for not practising! Tap slow pulse with RH, then with this established tap 2 to a beat with the LH for a few beats, then switch to 3 to a beat. Reverse the hands. Tap the slow pulse with the LH and the divided pulse with the RH. Tap the divided into 2 pulse with the RH for 4 beats, then the divided into 3 pulse with the LH for 4 beats. Tap the two divided pulses together, 2 in the LH and 3 in the RH Tap the divided pulses together, 2 in the LH and 3 in the RH Work on this for a few minutes each day, and gradually your rhythmic coordination at the piano will improve considerably.
42. Prelude and Fugue in G sharp minor from Book 2
FEEL YOUR HEART OPEN-ING
FEET ON THE GROUND__ YOUR
MIND BE-ING O-PEN AND
GEN-TLE AND KIND
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
The desire to grow in compassion is a clear aspiration in all spiritual traditions, but we often find it difficult to acknowledge that the primary need is to be compassionate towards ourselves. ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ has so often become ‘Hate your neighbour as you hate yourself’ with human history littered with the wreckage of our collective lack of self compassion. Being convinced that one’s own country, faith, religion, sexuality, values, aspirations, sensitivities and achievements are somehow better than anyone else’s is not a compassionate mindset but a fearful one. It leads inevitably to projection onto the others and the scapegoating of the other as the reason things are not as they should be. To be compassionate to ourselves is not about proclaiming our way to be superior. Neither is it about claiming our difficulties to be greater than those of others, It is not about being obsessed with the fact that the world is not perfect nor with the fact that we are not perfect. In the language of mindfulness it is rather about acknowledging the reality of what is happening while it is happening - whatever it is. ￼Of course life has its share of pain - but we don’t need to amplify the 10% pain by adding 90% suffering by reactively pouring petrol onto the flames. A compassionate response to ourselves would bypass this 90% suffering altogether by converting our reactivity into simple contemplative awareness. In the mystical Christian tradition this self compassion is about opening to grace, about accepting full forgiveness for whatever has happened, about letting go of all our feelings of unworthiness and of separation from God. So what does this self compassion mean as we sit down to practise the piano? First of all it means to accept where we are here and now - physically, emotionally and mentally. It means to take time to feel centred and grounded. It means to let go of expectations. It means to be aware of any physical tension - shoulders, jaw, wrists, arms, legs, feet. It means to accept that we make mistakes. It means to be grateful for the ability that we have. It means to enjoy being present. It means to be kind to ourselves when we drift away from being present. It means to stop practising before we lose our sense of self compassion. Practising the piano like this can become a way into contemplation. It can become a genuine spiritual practice. It seems to me there are many things about practising the piano which make it an ideal spiritual practice. It needs great attention to the detail of the here and now, the particularities of fingering, phrasing, dynamics, etc. At the same time, it needs a big picture awareness - the resulting sound. It engages the mind and the body together. Tension in the mind will result very quickly in tension in the body which will then very quickly get in the way of the intended sound being produced. So there is an inbuilt feedback loop which is happening all the time and from which we can learn more about our own process. Intention becomes of the utmost importance. Every sound that is intended by the mind and incarnated by the body physically will result in the sound being realised and received by the person practising as listener. And that will lead to the arising of the next intention, and so on. These three paradoxes - * highly detailed attention/big picture awareness *interdependence of mind and body * intention changing realisation - are core principles of spiritual practice. Enjoy your practising!
43. Prelude and Fugue in A major from Book 2
SEE YOUR DE-MONS CLEARLY
WITH YOUR EYES AND HEART
AND SEE THEM CHANGE
IN-TO YOUR FRIENDS
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
To many of us, demons are seen as things to fight and destroy. Much of the Western spiritual tradition has been interpreted along this way of thinking with images such as that of St George killing the dragon. We might also think of the long history of ascetical attitudes towards sexuality. But to many others in the contemporary Western world demons are probably seen as unreal and not worthy of our attention. But it is not difficult for all of us to see many things wrong with the world around us so let us for the sake of this exploration acknowledge the reality of demons. There are external demons as manifested in the corruption of institutions as varied as multinational companies, political parties and churches. There are inner demons which are so powerful that an increasing number of people are self-harming or developing addictions. Our media, and perhaps especially our social media, is full of people writing (often ranting) about things which need to be changed. Whatever your view on anything it is really not difficult to find someone who passionately thinks the polar opposite. And so we inhabit a somewhat schizophrenic society where there is a ‘war’ on terror, a ‘war’ on drugs, a ‘war’ on poverty even while policies have been pursued for many years by different governments which have made us collectively more and more hooked into greed, anxiety and delusion. ￼There IS an alternative. In the West ideas of the shadow and the unconscious have been famously explored by Carl Jung and Aldous Huxley among others. But I want to focus here on the wisdom traditions of Tibet. Here we see a path where we realise that we actually need to make friends with our demons, that all the demons which we imagine to be external and solid are in reality internal and fluid. By making friends with our inner demons we can experience their transformation into our helpers or allies. The shadow side, the dark side of our inner experience, is there for a reason. We need to experience the shadow, the darkness, because it alone contains the potential energy of transformation. This Tibetan wisdom tradition has been beautifully and movingly translated into a form accessible by modern Westerners by Tsultrim Allione whose work I highly recommend. But in our own tradition, the temptations of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (4.6) also show clearly this necessity of befriending and transforming our inner demons, not fighting them in the external world. Turn stones into bread In modern terms.......Be successful now. Impress others. Do something which is relevant. Save the world - right now! OR..... see the need to transform/dissolve the internal solidity of the stones (hard-heartedness) with the bread (fluidity) of breathing and compassion. Throw yourself off the mountain and I will catch you In modern terms ..........Play righteousness games. Pretend that you have some special insight which others don’t. OR...... test the inner reality of our mind’s content, not the external authority. ￼Bow down before me and I will give you everything you want In modern terms.......... Appease the systems of this world. Go along with what is needed to get on in the ‘real’ world and you will be rewarded. OR..... Don’t bow down before any external authority but trust the transformation to take place internally not externally. When we teach the piano we soon become aware of the reality of inner demons. There are firstly our own demons - of self-doubt, self- denial, self-glory, self-promotion, self-contempt. All need to be acknowledged and transformed into allies which help us communicate more clearly and honestly. Then there are the demons we become aware of in our pupils. It is very rarely a physical difficulty that prevents someone progressing further on the piano; much more often it is a mental tightening which leads to a physical tightening which then creates a perceived physical difficulty. Pupils’ inner demons are of course much the same as our own. Self-doubt is very common, especially when playing in front of someone else. There are many exercises which will help a pupil become more grounded in their body and less likely to spin off into self doubt - feeling the weight of their feet on the ground, feeling the breath coming from the diaphragm, hunching and releasing the shoulders, slowly moving the neck from side to side and forwards and backwards. But the first step is to make ‘friends’ with the fact that the self-doubt is present. It is just a perfectly normal part of human experience, not something to eliminate but something to get to know. Self-confidence can also sometimes be a mask for fear of anything new. I have taught teenage boys who can play certain pieces so brilliantly and are acclaimed as outstanding by their peer group but who are quite terrified of trying anything new or different in case a similar level of success is not forthcoming. Again, this ‘demon’ has to be befriended as a normal part of youthful (especially male) experience. Another demon that manifests in pupils is that of self-denial. The sort of pupil who may work through grade after grade of music examinations to please their parents and teacher and who never question their own relationship with the process. This is a hard demon for a teacher to see because it may appear externally that all is progressing really well and the teacher is being praised as well as the pupil. But the goal in teaching can always be something much wider and deeper than that of attaining external achievements - and it is clear to me after more than thirty years of teaching piano that everyone knows this at some level! The real joy and inner transformation that can be found from playing the piano is not something that can be taught in terms of external benchmarks but it is something which a good teacher can nurture. Think of it as planting seeds - some of them will flourish and grow into plants in their own right. The goal for the teacher can be like that for the parent - to be there when needed, but to avoid getting in the way when self-knowledge is developing.
44. Prelude and Fugue in A minor from Book 2
I SEE IT
NOW THIS REAL-LY
IS THE WAY THINGS
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
When Jesus takes Peter, James and John up into the mountains (Matthew 17) the disciples have a vision of Jesus transfigured, his face shining like the sun and his clothes becoming pure white. They are in awe, amazed, and want to stay in this special place for ever. Then when they hear God’s voice from the cloud the amazement/ vision turns into fear and the vision goes as quickly as it arose. And then Jesus explains that they have now to return from the mountain to the plain, from the mystical experience to everyday life, for it is in the ‘ordinary’ world of the ‘mundane’ that the work needs to be done. This must have been hard for the disciples to understand at the time, but in the course of their lives they did indeed spread the Gospel, the Good news. not by staying in the separate ‘holy place’ but by bringing the ‘holy place’ into the actual physical material reality of life itself. Theologically what happens in the Transfiguration is the brief external revelation of how things really are all the time. Most of the time we do NOT see things as they really are because we live in fear. Fear makes things solid for us - it makes us fix past events as unchangeable and future events as controllable. The present flowing reality is bypassed - most of the time we are living on the bypass, we are missing the present, missing the mark. This is exactly what the real Biblical meaning of sin is - missing the mark. Nothing to do with sex, nothing to do with money, in fact nothing to do with conventional morality at all. It is living on the bypass and missing the present. It is ￼taking the solid to be real and the flow to be elusive instead of understanding the solid to be illusory and the flow to be the way things really are. The reality of the human condition is that each day COULD be our last day of being alive on this earth. Many spiritual traditions emphasise the importance of being ready for death not as some morbid sort of exercise but as a discipline of being more alive, more present. The ‘practice of the presence of God’ as described in the medieval Christian mystical tradition is not really so different from ‘being aware of what is happening while it is happening, with awareness of preference’ as defined by the contemporary Mindfulness Association. There really is no confusion in presence, in mindfulness. There is no confusion in the disciples’ vision of the Transfiguration. Confusion only arises as either attachment or fear replace the clarity of the flowing experience which is the real substance of our life. In the Lord’s Prayer in the Aramaic we say Hawlan lachma d’sunqanan yaomana Give us this day what we need in bread and insight. Give us this day our bread of tomorrow. Open our hearts and minds now to receive what is eternally given. (Neil Douglas Klotz : Prayers of the Cosmos) Think of the 99% of matter now thought by contemporary physicists to consist of ‘nothingness’ and the parallels with mystical experience from different traditions are crystal clear. Mystical reality is not different from material reality. What changes is our mode of perception. And the way we change our mode of perception is by practise. It is just like learning a Bach fugue. We need to slow down, work out the physical coordination, and allow the connections between the notes to gradually reveal the music. In this sense practising the piano becomes a life creating meditation, a way of ‘practising the presence of God’, a way of ‘being aware of what is happening while it is happening’. One thing which is very clear from my experience of both performing and being part of an audience is that the quality of presence in the performers is reflected in the quality of presence in the audience. Spend a few minutes recalling the concerts you remember above all others - think about the presence in the performers and think about your own awareness, your own ‘being present’. One that I return to agin and again is hearing the great South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim play in London in 1988. It was just before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Ibrahim performed his powerful composition Mandela and I had an extraordinary glimpse of the power of music to actually change the world. Looking back now I realise how important that experience was in my life - the privilege of being alive, of being present, of being in touch with the power of music at that sort of depth. Like the disciples’ experience of the Transfiguration I glimpsed the significance at the time but it is in the everyday life of music teaching and performing since then that its meaning is still being revealed to me thirty years later. The ordinary, the mundane, IS extraordinary. There is no divide between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘secular’. There is one world, we are ultimately all united. And as it says in a famous Chilean revolutionary song, another enormously powerful musical experience for me personally, El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido The people united will never be defeated.
45. Prelude and Fugue in B flat major from Book 2
FEEL EV-ERY NOTE YOU
PLAY AS EN-ER-GY THAT
IMOVES YOU FOR-WARD IN YOUR
JOUR-NEY TO-WARD THE
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
At its worst teaching piano can seem like an endlessly frustrating attempt to persuade someone else to do something which they really don’t want to do. But at its best it can seem like guiding someone on a creative journey which opens them up to deeper layers of wisdom and understanding. Most of the time, of course, it is somewhere in between these two extremes, but it is good to have a clear idea of where you are aiming. For many years I had a real block about the word ‘technique’ when applied to the piano and piano teaching. It seemed to suggest that you could only lean the piano by mastering a whole series of physical coordination exercises. There seemed to be no room for ‘feeling’ the music, communicating the deeper level of what the music had to offer. Now I understand things rather differently. I see technique as encompassing all the different parameters of music and developing one’s technique as an ongoing process throughout life. The most important principle of developing technique is what I call being present with the sound. If you are not hearing the sound ￼internally you will not produce it externally. If you are playing notes mechanically with your mind wandering through shopping lists or football scores then you are not present with the sound, you are not developing your technique. On the other hand if you spend five minutes really focussed on the sound of each note in a simple scale then you will be developing your technique considerably. You will learn to recognise how intention precedes sound, how sound decays on the piano, how you need to play in terms of touch and speed of depression of the keys in order to connect the sounds one to another, how you need to generate a steady flow in your intention of the sound, how music comes from the flow between sounds rather than from discrete separate notes. All too often I have heard pupils - especially adult pupils - say that they can’t think about ‘expression’ (by which they really mean articulation, phrasing, dynamics, voicing of chords etc. etc.)until they have got the notes right. Sadly I can only conclude that they have been ‘taught’ this principle at some point. It does not work. You cannot develop a musical technique unless you have a musical intention. A musical intention does not mean ‘getting the notes right’ but ‘hearing and producing the right sound’. The ‘right’ sound here means the sound which matches your intention of the sound. It will be produced by a combination of an alert listening presence and a relaxed sensitive touch. The second important principle in developing your technique has to do with pulse. Practise feeling the pulse of the music that you are about to play - in silence. If the pulse is slow can you feel that pulse subdividing into two.....into three......into four? Can you feel the subdivisions changing from twos to threes to fours and back again without changing or losing the fundamental pulse? Five minutes in silence practising in this way will do more for developing your technique than hours of trying to get all the right notes. Apply what you have done in silence to practising scales. Play a scale for two octaves subdividing the pulse into twos, then for three octaves subdividing into threes. then for four octaves subdividing into fours. Then return back to threes and finally back to twos. Feel the basic pulse continuing beyond the final sound. This work will establish a way of thinking, a way of listening that will change your experience of playing music from ‘solid’ dots to ‘flowing’ sound. If we put these two principles together we can understand that developing technique is about being continually present to something which is continually changing. Going with the flow in a way which is really alive and life-affirming. And beyond that? Well I think that music points us in the direction of silence. The silence of contemplation, the silence that cannot be bound by language, not even the language of music. In this sense, then, teaching the piano can be seen as an invitation to contemplation, an invitation to use ‘doing’ as a vehicle to find a greater sense of ‘being’, and invitation to move out from the sickness of solidity of the ‘Ego-self’ towards the flowing unity of the ‘Deep-Self’.
46. Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor from Book 2
YOU WILL HEAR THAT
EV_-ER SO O-PEN YOUR
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
For most of us born and brought up in the Christian tradition our first association of ‘conversion experience’ would be the account of Saul in the book of Acts. A devout Jew and persecutor of Jesus’ followers, he is travelling to Damascus when he is suddenly aware of a light all around him. He falls to the ground and hears a voice : You will be told what you have to do’. Saul is struck dumb and blind and it takes him three days to come to his senses again. His whole life is transformed and he turns from persecutor to proclaimer, from cynic to mystic visionary. In the Buddhist world we tend to think of the conversion experience taking much longer than three days. Indeed many people speak as if the journey to enlightenment is bound to take many lifetimes, maybe countless aeons. Going back to the Pali Canon, however, there are numerous examples of people who hear the Buddha’s message and are converted almost instantaneously. The journey from sotapanna (stream-enterer) to arahant (realised holy enlightened being) sometimes only takes a few days. For the most part modern Western people do NOT go through their lives expecting to be changed, challenged, converted to a new way of seeing. Yet on some level there is no doubt that many people are seekers for just such a new way of seeing that can make sense of life and death, joy and suffering, love and passion. Music is clearly one medium that helps in this seeking - most people will have at least one piece of music, be it a popular song or an orchestral symphony - that has touched them deeply enough to be recognised as some sort of conversion experience, something which opened the world up, which revealed a deeper aspect of life’s rich meaning. For myself I remember a few such occasions. I first heard Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus on the radio when I was about seventeen. By the end of this massive two hour piano work I was sure that I had experienced something of the vastness of the universe beyond this time, this place, this life. It was like being converted to a different way of seeing where ‘my’ life, ‘my’ consciousness was just a drop in a limitless ocean. Both liberating and terrifying at the same time - I suppose both meanings can be contained in the word ‘awesome’. A very different experience for me was hearing the South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim perform in London in 1988. It was during the time when Nelson Mandela was still in prison and the whole world was watching, waiting for change. When Abdullah Ibrahim played his Song for Mandela I experienced something which I can now acknowledge as being the clearest source of inspiration for my philosophy of teaching music. I experienced with absolute conviction that ‘music can change the world because it can change people’s consciousness’. Ibrahim’s playing was a political act - not offered as a personal wish, not offered as entertainment, not offered to move people emotionally, but given so that people’s consciousness could be changed and through them the world itself could be changed. None of us needs too many conversion experiences like these in our lives. When we have had one we are in some sense told what to do with it - even though we may not be able to articulate what has happened until many years later. Music is an immensely powerful medium. It is a shared universal language, and both in performing and listening it has the power to bring together the left and right sides of the brain and create a new unitive consciousness.
47. Prelude and Fugue in B major from Book 2
HEAD AND HEART AND
AL-REA-DY HAVE THEM1
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
Certainly through the first half of life most of us spend a considerable amount of energy and effort looking for answers to our inevitable questions. The natural curiosity as to why I am the way I am, how I fit into my family, how I fit into the society around me, how I can earn a living, what do I really believe in, what are the most important values to uphold, etc. For many people the search for answers dominates the whole of life. For others the idea that there really is a ‘right’ way to see the world, to understand history, to understand science, to understand religion, to understand one’s own nation, results in a set of views which can be endlessly pitted against other people’s differing sets of views. We still have either/or discussions and debates presented as creationism v. evolution, science v. religion, male v. female, East v. West, capitalism v. communism, Christianity v. Islam, Catholic v. Protestant, gay v. straight, Harry Potter v. Voldemort. Humans have always looked to people who will lead them, tell them what to do, what they should believe etc. etc. People like to have leaders so that can know that they are on the right track, that they are on the right side, that they are safe, that all will be well. And so it is not really surprising that the visionary insights and teachings of both Jesus and the Buddha were turned into religions. But it is worth spelling this out very carefully : Jesus did NOT come into the world to found a new religion. The Buddha did NOT come into the world to found a new religion. ￼The creation of religions belongs essentially to the ‘old’ way of understanding which the great wisdom teachers came to point the way beyond. The ‘new’ way of understanding is always a new experience. Not a new religion, not a new school, not a new method, not a new road-map but a new experience. New experience is only possible from being present - and so it is not surprising that the heart of the message of all the great wisdom teachers is the same truth - let go of all attachment to a separate identity and live your life fully in the here-and-now. Presence which we can call simply the present. But most of us drift through life like the schoolchild sitting patiently and expectantly in their seat when told by their new teacher to ‘wait there for the present’. As we get older we gradually become more and more cynical and unsure that the present really exists at all. The reality - that the Kingdom of God is present here and now in all its fullness, that Buddha-mind is realisable here and now in this moment - is presented very clearly by the great wisdom teachers. It is not the hidden teaching that religious establishments and hierarchies have tried to make it. And so once again to playing and teaching the piano. Many people are searching, searching, searching for answers. The best guide to piano technique, the best way of improving my sight reading, the best was of learning to improvise, the best pieces for me to learn, the easiest way to memorise pieces, how to play like Oscar Peterson, the best way to see groups of notes as chords etc. etc. There is a strong belief in most people that there are real answers to all these questions somewhere ‘out there’, and that the job of learning is to find out those answers. Or even that the job of the teacher is to provide them! I think the journey of learning the piano is like setting out on the Yellow Brick Road in the land of OZ to find the Wizard who will give you your brain, your heart, your courage. There comes a point on the journey where you are are confronted with the reality - you already have these with you, you are using them all already, there is NO great Wizard out there to give you an infallible answer to your questions. What there is is infinitely more amazing and empowering - the realisation that you are fundamentally your own best teacher. it is a hard thing for a piano teacher to say of course because it puts them out of a job, but the reality is that you are your own best teacher. A good teacher can be a guide on the journey, a sounding board, someone to challenge assumptions and preconceptions, an inspiration to keep going on the journey, a counsellor in times of difficulty and despair. But a good teacher does not need to come up with answers to every question. Be discerning about who you ask to teach you. Be honest about what you are really looking for. And enjoy the music!
48. Prelude and Fugue in B minor from Book 2
I FEEL MY IN-TEN-TION TO
PLAY WHAT I
HEAR AND TRANS-
MIT THE PO--
TEN-TIAL OF THE SOUND
(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
It was while teaching a music theory class once that I was suddenly struck by the ambiguity of musical numbers. A question which asked for the doubling of musical note lengths involved changing the time signature from 4/4 to 4/2. In other words, the number indicating the type of beat has to be halved in order to double the note lengths. No wonder why people get confused I thought! Another strange thing to get your head around I have found in teaching about seventh chords. The logical brain surely imagines that the difference between a seventh chord (e.g. G7) and a minor seventh chord (e.g. Gm7) must be something to do with the seventh. But no - the difference is actually to do with the THIRD of the chord, B natural in the case of the G7 chord and B flat in the case of the Gm7 chord. Once again, no wonder why people get confused! Other musical ambiguities that spring to mind are the curved lines for ties and slurs and the enharmonic writing of notes with double flats and double sharps. I mean just how long does it take the brain to work out that a combination of F double flat, A flat and C flat will constitute the same notes and sounds as an E major chord? With jazz notation there are all sorts of variants to get to grips with - some books will use m7 whereas others use _7 for the same thing. Some use a triangle whereas others use Maj7. Some use m7(b5) whereas others use a circle with a slash line through the middle. ￼No wonder that many young musicians decide that it is much easier to do everything by ear than by trying to master the vagaries of musical notation. When it comes to rhythm there is one are of ambiguity which has recurred in different guises for several hundred years. When French composers of the Baroque wrote inegal, they meant that notes which were written as quavers (or eighth notes to flag up yet another ambiguity in musical nomenclature) should be played unequally, with the first longer than the second. There was no such thing as the ‘double dot’ in Baroque times so when Bach wrote his Fugue in D major in the first book of the 48 he was leaving it to the player to understand the need for playing in the French style with more unequal notes. When Schubert wrote the Klavierstuck in E flat minor, D946, did he mean the semiquaver to come AFTER the third of the triplets as would be mathematically correct or together with it? When Samuel Barber wrote his Excursions for piano (the excursions being into popular American styles)did he mean the ‘slow blues style’ to override the complex ’classical’ rhythm notation or not? Such questions keep musicologists in business of course, and there are many people who have strong opinions on the ‘rightness’ of one solution or another. But in the end it seems to me it is the teacher’s job to open the ears, the imagination and the discernment of the pupil so that they might come to their own decisions about these things. This is maybe very different from the role that the majority of people seem to want to put teachers in, the role of saying that something should be played in a particular way to be ‘right’ or ‘correct’. So inside these apparently trivial questions about the placing of triplets and semiquavers lie some profound questions about the relationship between the composer and the performer, between the teacher and the pupil, and - beyond the world of music altogether - between the nature of external and internal authority. The most important thing in performance it seems to me is to be whole hearted and convincing with your intention. Do not doubt that the intent behind the playing will reach the listener. if the intent is uncertain then it needs to be uncertain for a particular musical reason, not because of temporary mental vacillation. There are moments such as the opening of the last movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat, Op 110 where there needs to be a profound spaciousness which can come across to the listener as searching, not declaiming. This will only come across if the searching quality is in the performer’s intention. In a place like this, the parallel might well be the mystic’s ‘cloud of unknowing’ where there is an invitation to the openness of the journey, not the certainty of the conclusion. In many other places in the same sonata, the intention needs to have a totally different character and be clearly declamatory. In music -as in just about any other field of human endeavour - it is possible to get so absorbed in the detail that the big picture is lost. It is sadly possible to remain at the level of disagreeing as to which is the ‘right’ way to sort out the triplets and the semiquavers. It is also possible, however, to use the attention to detail as a way into experiencing a quality of intention which transmits a much bigger picture to the listener. The experience is then more similar to that of meditation. Attention needs to keep returning to the simple focus of the breath. Eventually, with time and persistence, the bigger picture becomes clearer - all the layers of distraction turn out to be very superficial; by not identifying with the distractions of physical, emotional and mental vacillations, the mind really can abide in spaciousness and equanimity. For the musical performer this is gold dust. For if the performer is abiding in that spaciousness and equanimity, then the intention is clear without being fixed; alive and flowing rather than fixated on ‘rightness’. And the listener can receive the composer’s intention through the performer as transmitter.
END OF BOOK 2