Egoless, part 2

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Today I am continuing on with some of the lessons I learned from my piano teacher, Mildred Portney Chase, and her book,  Just Being At The Piano.

Imagine taking a break from grading your playing today and instead focusing on seeing…listening…feeling…moving…. According to Mildred, this is the only way to produce a beautiful sound on the piano.  As a child, I used to secretly roll my eyes when she would ask, “Did you play that with love?” It seemed too touchy-feely back then and I just tried to give her what she wanted. But as I matured, I realized how much my emotional state affected my playing. Mildred said,

Time spent at the piano can be an insightful journey inward, the pleasure deepening with the years….The so-called amateur may play from the heart even if her proficiency is not on the highest level.

She believed that when we focus on our mistakes and compare our playing with others, we not only lose the joy of learning, but we make it impossible to progress as musicians.

Love is the most important quality to bring to any task. Love draws all that we have within us to the action in which we are involved….It heightened the senses; it allows self-acceptance and total involvement.

So how do we bring love to a task? We find love through gratitude. We practice seeing the beauty and wonders all around us. We take time to appreciate our life, our health, our home, our loved ones, nature, music, and the things in our lives that bring us joy.

How do we move towards total involvement? Like any other skill, it takes practice. Zen masters talk about carrying out mundane activities with mindfulness. If you’re in a train station, be aware of all that is around you. The sound of the train, the faces of the people, the smells and your feelings in the moment. If you’re washing dishes feel the surface of the plate and the warmth of the water, smell the soap, watch the movements of your arms and hands, listen to the sounds of the running water and clinking silverware.

Though we may not be able to live mindfully every moment as the masters do, we can practice it daily in our chores or activities, then bring that heightened sense of awareness love and gratitude to our playing.

Only from that state of total involvement can you begin to play in the way in which you dream.

Thanks Mildred!

With love and music, Gaili

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7 Replies to “Egoless, part 2”

  1. You are fortunate to have had Mildred as a teacher. After my childhood lessons I abandoned playing altogether. On my own at age 20 I bought an old piano, taught myself to play chords and had so much fun playing folk music with friends. It brought us together, deepened our friendships and felt so free and uplifting. I never worried about playing wrong notes, of which there were many. Mildred nailed it when she said that playing with love brings out the best in us…my paraphrase. I want to find that happy place again.

    1. Yes, playing music with others is one of life’s greatest pleasures! I don’t know why so many music teachers took the joy out of it for us. There seemed to be a perception amongst teachers that they needed to prepare all of their students for careers as concert pianists. So they didn’t teach us chords, but made us enter endless competitions, play music we didn’t like, and hit our hands with rulers when we made mistakes. I have students who are still healing from the trauma of their childhood piano lessons. Yikes. Thanks for your comments 🙂

      1. Those sound like horror stories. How very sad that people would need healing from the damage done by bad piano teachers. Today I took the leap and decided to play without headphones and asked my husband to sing along from Book 2. He pulled out his guitar that he hadn’t played for years and we played and sang together. It was a blast!

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