'The Fear'

Recently I finished uploading the last of my second dozen of Bach's 48 Preludes & Fugues which comprise Das Wohltemperierte Clavier. To me it's one of the great holy books of music & I know no better way of starting the day than playing one or two of them. In another two years(?) I hope to complete my project of recording the entire set.
    I started to think of recording them 3 years ago as I've played these pieces informally all my life (my copies are 50 years old next year!) but at that point I saw the colossal gulf that separates playing for personal re-creation & the rigours of recording - where you encounter all your short-comings in pretty brutal close-up!

    I believe that teachers should be forced to perform because it helps them to remain in touch with 'the fear'. From the comfort of a teacher's chair it's all too easy to forget this; and thus to lose contact with the core experience of a young learner.
    By 'fear' I mean the sense of uncertainty /anxiety that discovery of a new world always involves. If people wonder why teenagers become so bolshy, may not a lot be to do with the fact that they're herded like cattle throu all sorts of experiences they're not given time to assimilate, by an industrialised process of education that allows no variation for individual need/s?
    In music you see the downside of the current obsession with exam-mania & winning competitions at ever younger ages in the rising epidemic of stage fright which brings the hopes far too many high-fliers to a bitter end.  
    My system of using performances for motivation rather than exams is based on the belief that children benefit from developing a positive relationship with this 'fear'. In other words, of learning to respect 'the fear' & harnessing it, instead of just dismissing it so that it recurs in aberrant way. This means creating an environment where it's OK to fail - people gain the courage to jump higher if it doesn’t hurt to fall. 
    I've said elsewhere that I hold the educational system's drive to colonise & formulate every aspect of learning responsible for punk & the manifestations of underground music. If you were a young person confronted by people who were attempting to control & examine every aspect of an activity like music - which is pointless if not pleasurable - why would you not invent an anti-music that teachers & adults couldn’t 'invade & rule' as your own kind of tribal identity for oppressed youth?
    IMO teenagers need music as a 'rumpus room' where they can experiment with the subtle feelings it has the power to evoke, and become comfortable with the immense range of experiences it offers, at a pace and in a musical language they can relate to and, to a degree, control.
   That, even on paper, is likely to produce better balanced adults than the current system where those who can adapt to being pulled backwards throu hedges are given prizes and everyonelse has to fight their way past the thorns as best they may.

    After nearly 15 years of empirical experimentation with what leads youngsters to enjoy & gain value from piano my observation is that concerts provide youngsters with a controlable amount of 'fear', surmounting which builds their self-esteem, so encouraging an optimal learning pattern - which the young pianist can take as far & as fast as s/he wants. I take as much pleasure from the ex-pupil who is now a Porsche mechanic and, according to his mother, still plays (whose uTube 2006 video of Einaudi has now received 24,750 hits!) as the two who are now professional musicians.
    Don’t exams also do this? Maybe & no. Whatever you encounter within yourself in a performance motivated by communicating with an audience (& our parents are the only audience that ever really matters to us) is truly your own & remains with you. It is a nascent version the self-awareness you get from 'battle conditions', with the benefit that in an environment nurtured by a parental response you acquire confidence to extend your comfort zone. In exams you reach you peak nervous excitement by going into a room with a stranger in order to be judged. I just don’t think that is the experience that music exists for - & if you want to know what's at the heart of the central problem of why so many young learners just give up and the more ambitious suffer from nerves, then this partly explains it. And it also explains why so many young musicians have a kind of nervous breakdown after leaving college adapting to a world where the structures offered by this kind 'cruel cradling' fall away & they have to construct their own raisons d’ĂȘtre from scratch.
    In any education system worth the name, its ultimate purpose should be to encourage pupils to be present in their own learning process. The bigger issues are of course much more complex, but this underlying simplicity is often lost sight of; and I feel that it lies within the power of the arts to keep it alive when often elsewhere it is crushed by the dynamics of political control.
    (I should clarify that I don’t oppose all musical exams, I just don’t think they're relevant for most people in the early stages. I was interested to learn that as a general policy Eton no longer enters instrumentalists into the exams below Grade 5. This is the first institution I've heard of taking such an enlightened approach.) 
    So my way of keeping in touch with the creative uncertainties which my pupils necessarily experience is by such projects as recording Bach. Keeping such timeless beauty alive for its own sake is also how cultural memory is preserved.

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