08 October 2014

Free As A Bird

A few moments ago I received an email from a friend (and former employer) containing this Nina Simone clip. The friend said I came to mind as she watched it.

I'm flattered.

The sincerity of the performance is hugely compelling.  As I watch, I am transported to that "space" in which/from which such performance springs. It is a gentle, wide open, heart-centered meditation to make music in that altered stated. The sensation inhabits the intellect, the body, the psyche...

Introducing students to that space is an essential aspect of teaching piano for me. I talk to them about focus. I describe what it's like for me. When they feel they are focused, I ask them to describe what it's like for them. For those students whose descriptions center on thought processes, I invite them into an awareness of the physical and emotional attributes of "focus".

As their understanding of the orientation matures and they become familiar with how it feels to focus, it is possible to coach them during performance, to say "Go 'there'" and a "there" exists for them. They know the route and they know more and more about how to get "there".


A little while ago, after several minutes of noting a mild ruckus in the garden, I walked to the west side of the porch to investigate. A lone bluejay was foraging amongst the fallen leaves and ground cover. He was less than six feet away from me and looked up at me when he sensed my presence. He looked at me, but seemed not in the least startled or troubled.

His look was more in the spirit of "Yes? Can I help you?" I returned to my chair on the other side of the porch, thinking "There's freedom!" Freedom from fear. Freedom to be and to be about whatever he was about. "I'm a blue jay. I'm doing my blue jay thing. What are you doing?"

Some students, especially adult females, are wont to apologize:  if they miss a note or forget the meaning of a dynamic marking or make some other "mistake." And each time they apologize, I remind them gently that no apology is needed. "You are learning to play piano. Mistakes are an important -- and unavoidable -- part of the learning process."

Blue jays make a lot of noise. Students make mistakes. No apologies. In the space where focus abides, we are free to do our student thing -- to learn, through trial and error, turning away from the distraction of self-consciousness, escaping the bondage of apology and excuse. 

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
I wish I could break all the chains holding me
I wish I could say all the things that I should say
Say 'em loud say 'em clear
For the whole wide world to hear

The blue jay has relocated to this side of the porch. Rummaging noisily now on the other side of the screen, less than 3 feet from me. Bothered not a wit by my presence or my opinions about what he's doing. He's focused on what he's doing. Living his own life.