What is allowed in piano playing? What is allowed in music making? In composing? In music, or... life?
I'm always surprised whenever I have students who would say to me "...but, my previous teacher told me I wasn't allowed to do that". So far, these comments had been referred to degree of movement in the body or hands, a style of playing, or even more trivially, the fingers to use on a particular note in a passage.
I'm even more surprised when I come across piano teachers who would impose certain 'rules' that exacerbate this idea. Things like: "No, you're not allowed to move your bottom when you're playing
the piano!" or, "You must always finish your piece with your hands like this!"
In my experience, playing the piano is being a part of the world of music, which essentially, is part of the bigger world of human perceptions. Musical instruments are man-made tools to allow us to be closer to this world, to experience our lives and sense of being in an aural dimension. These tools have come through history, and with history, comes centuries of knowledge and experience passed down from generation to generation.
As it is with being human, information, ideas and suggestions are passed down through filters, opinions and coloured perceptions. We can't help that - that is what makes us human, and makes the human world a confusingly fascinating place. But what starts off as a pure intention may become harmful to the execution of that idea. In other worlds, we mustn't forget that 'ideas' are thoughts that have come from another individual, one who just like yourself, has their own history, family, upbringing, problems. It may have been an idea from which the outcome may have worked for some. But imposing this idea may have been harmful to others, like jamming a key in a lock that really doesn't fit. In other words, there are many perceptions to one idea, and many ways of executing it. I'm sure that line can resonate not only in the world of music, but in many things related in this human reality.
For now, I'm going to use playing piano as an example to that thought. Here's the scenario.
Johnny is learning a piece of music he's been wanting to play for a while. He's learnt it and spent some time tackling this notoriously difficult passage, a passage that covers a wide range on the piano. He has found a way to execute this passage effortlessly, and finally plays it to his teacher, with his heart and soul, and the music flowed beautifully. After the last note, he turned to look at his teacher. But to his dismay, the first thing the teacher says to him is "you're not allowed to slide your bottom around the seat when you're playing piano!"
The comment reflects the well-intention from the teacher. Here's an attempted translation: "Sliding your bottom on the seat has been frowned upon by many people throughout the years, so you shouldn't do it because I don't want you to be frowned upon." This is meaning out of love. However, aside from the insensitive way in which this was delivered, the teacher has forgotten to address the bigger and more important picture. The human body is there to make the music, not the other way around. Some may argue that too much movement while playing the piano is distracting to the music; it is unnecessary, etc. But what if there are distractions? So long as the music produced is the ideal for the performer, everyone will have different ways of doing so.Johnny has found a perfect way for his body to manoeuvre around difficult passages of the piece, to ensure that not only the passage can be executed musically, but also in a way to minimise risk of strain for himself, and thereby preventing injury and pain. The result is an experience that facilitates the value in the music he plays, and the resulting value in which he feels for himself.
Painting by Rob Gonslaves
This leads to my point about the risk of imposing ideas as a teacher. Being a teacher means a responsibility to share knowledge and information through experience in life and life values. The words that leave a teacher's mouth will have an impact in shaping a student's learning and their thoughts - this is not exclusive to what is between a teacher and student, as it is for the rest of human interaction. It is far more important to suggest, to advice, than to dictate and direct. A teacher has the responsibility to remind the student that what they share essentially are suggestions, ones that have been trialled through experience and tested through history - although it does not mean to discredit other alternative ideas.
So, what is allowed in anything? That's why we keep learning, to understand as much as we can on a single concept, to see all the dimensions of an idea as more people, more ideas contribute to this multifaceted world of knowledge. Be wary of those who limit your imagination, and question those who restricts your thoughts.
- Natasha Lin