Where are you going?

Removing extremities...

As a pianist of any experience or perceived ability, it would not be too unjust to assume that you have spent almost 100% of your time playing and not much more than 1% not playing; thinking, in other words.  You may wonder why or how the notion of 'not playing' is of any benefit to the pianist but let me give you something to think about which may perhaps help you to achieve a new state of mental awareness as a pianist and as a result, much more enjoyment.

When asked, "Why do you play the piano?", one of the most common responses, quite justly so, is, "I enjoy it".  There is absolutely nothing wrong in enjoying what one does and I fully support this response.  Another common response is about a future plan, or some fulfilment of a desire, à la "I want to become a jazz pianist/composer/concert pianist", whatever it may be.  Equally so, I find nothing inherently wrong with this statement.

I would, however, highlight that these two extremes are both quite some distance from what one may call the 'Middle Way'.  This term implies the avoidance of extremes, of what you might call 'one-sided-ness' and promotes a kind of balance between whatever the components of each extremity may be, depending on the subject or skill.

By locating oneself mentally at an extreme, by taking sides, the potential joy to be found from a little blend of the opposite is completely neglected and never experienced.  It's like living in a room of complete darkness or in a room with a thousand lights on all the time; sometimes, one may switch off all the lights and enjoy that extreme for a while, only to switch back on the thousand lights, never knowing what it is like to enjoy a room with only 500 lights; a little darkness, a little light.

Such is the Middle Way.

In pianism, by only focusing on playing 'for fun', one is missing out on the more refined options of aiming to be a proficient jazz pianist, composer or concert pianist.  On the flip-side, many high-aiming pianists spend their piano time grinding away to become incredibly proficient yet forget to have fun in the process.

Going deeper into this idea, the 'hobbyist' would do well to explore the stories behind the pieces they are working on, going so far as to discover the life of the composer themselves.  Sometimes, in discovering why a composer wrote a piece of music, sensitivity to the piece is enhanced, perhaps even providing a more personal connection perhaps between yourself and the composer's reason to compose.  I personally found this many times with Liszt and Chopin research.

Playing for fun is locking the door to a few new sounds and abilities which will no doubt prove satisfying to the casual pianist.  Instead of only finding pieces in common keys (C, F, G), spend just a few days mastering, for example, two new keys (Eb and Bb), and then find a piece in those keys.  Instead of ignoring chords and scales because you think your fingers are "good enough", spend 20 minutes playing your known major scales with both hands individually and together.  Doing this with your eyes closed provides a very unique and enlightening experience.

As for those readers who may well have a so-called 'advanced' technique or a large repertoire, you surely are doing yourself an injustice if you have forgotten the all important element of 'fun'.  It is very easy to forget that whatever one does it life, whether working in a menial job or composing great works of art in some form or another, in the end, it is all just a big load of plain old fun... pure and simple.

Are you a rubbish collector?  Collect those bins like it's your last day alive.  Listen to your favourite music, dance to the bins and pick them up as if they want to dance with you.  What on Earth else can you do?  What else should you do?  Take it seriously?

As a composer or concert pianist, despite your 'prestigious' position in the music world, no matter how admired you are by your followers or students, or even if you are not yet there but you study and play every day until your hands ache (which is so greatly ill-advised anyway), stop playing from time to time.  It must be acknowledged that a mind at peace and in balance results in a performance of the same quality.  Quite often, one is only able to calm the mind by doing other activities.  One such example is to head out into that place from which you came, Nature, and experience it.  Smell it, hear it, touch it.  Enjoy it.

Hopefully by this point, the reader has begun to comprehend the valuable importance of not wholeheartedly siding with and living at an extreme, but rather, trying to find a Middle Way.

Once on the path, the next question is very obvious:  "Where do I go from here?".  The answer can be quick, or detailed; I shall provide both...

Quick:  Nowhere at all.

Detailed:  Traditionally, when one has a destination, upon arrival, the journeying stops and something else entirely different takes place.  A journey, in this sense, involves a switch from 'heading to the place' to 'doing what I planned upon arrival'.  In other words, the journey has a destination, and when you get there, you stop travelling, stop journeying, and do something which is not travelling.

Now, consider the question again as a pianist with the aforementioned notion in mind:  "Where do I go from here?".  The very instant this question is posed, a destination has been created through sheer necessity to the question.  Who knows where it is, this destination, how long it will take to get there or even how to get there at all, but the disappointment waiting for you when you arrive, if you ever arrive, will be very disheartening indeed.

It is absolutely crucial to understand that a true traveller, just like water, does not have a final destination; he simply lives a life of journeying.  After all, what indeed would he do when he arrives?  Sit down forever and cut off his legs?  Wear a blindfold and cover his ears?  Of course, what nonsense.  By never setting a final destination, he is always travelling; by always travelling, he is always learning; by always learning, he is always living; by always living, his life never lacks experience; by not lacking experiences, he never uses labels; by not using labels, everything suddenly becomes possible.

No matter if you want to 'become' a great composer, jazz pianist or concert pianist, or merely play the piano 'for fun', in the end, you are one in the same, both following the Middle Way, both playing for fun with hints of more refined exercises, or mastering huge concert repertoires with interludes of time back with Nature and allowing your mind to be at peace, making progress everywhere, yet never arriving anywhere.

The reason behind writing this blog is that I have seen and received many questions and comments all based on 'getting somewhere', or 'becoming something'.  Many individuals experience great stress or confusion due to these questions so I felt it was necessary to put some minds at rest.

Hopefully the reader now has a better state of mind when approaching the piano at any level and will continue to experience great joy in the production of their piano music.


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After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot. "There," he said to the old man, "see if you can match that!"

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. "Now it is your turn," he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground. Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.

"You have much skill with your bow," the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, "but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot - See more at: http://www.spiritual-short-stories.com/spiritual-short-story-117-Concentration.html#sthash.1XRZcvUq.dpuf
After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot. "There," he said to the old man, "see if you can match that!"

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. "Now it is your turn," he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground. Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.

"You have much skill with your bow," the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, "but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot - See more at: http://www.spiritual-short-stories.com/spiritual-short-story-117-Concentration.html#sthash.1XRZcvUq.dpuf
During a momentous battle, a Japanese general decided to attack even though his army was greatly outnumbered. He was confident they would win, but his men were filled with doubt. On the way to battle, they stopped at a religious shrine. After praying with the men, the general took out a coin and said, "I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win. If tails, we shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself."

He threw the coin into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was heads! The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious. After the battle, a lieutenant remarked to the general, "No one can change destiny."

"Quite right," the general replied as he showed the lieutenant the coin, which had heads on both sides - See more at: http://www.spiritual-short-stories.com/spiritual-short-story-122-Destiny.html#sthash.JR6f7sNx.dpuf
During a momentous battle, a Japanese general decided to attack even though his army was greatly outnumbered. He was confident they would win, but his men were filled with doubt. On the way to battle, they stopped at a religious shrine. After praying with the men, the general took out a coin and said, "I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win. If tails, we shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself."

He threw the coin into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was heads! The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious. After the battle, a lieutenant remarked to the general, "No one can change destiny."

"Quite right," the general replied as he showed the lieutenant the coin, which had heads on both sides - See more at: http://www.spiritual-short-stories.com/spiritual-short-story-122-Destiny.html#sthash.JR6f7sNx.dpuf
After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot. "There," he said to the old man, "see if you can match that!"

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. "Now it is your turn," he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground. Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.

"You have much skill with your bow," the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, "but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot." - See more at: http://www.spiritual-short-stories.com/spiritual-short-story-117-Concentration.html#sthash.6JSVu2UA.dpuf