2013/12/04

A few thoughts about young pianists’ psychological processes


When kids first start the piano their primary responses are geared to /throu their fingers. Very few have sufficient ‘brainwidth’ to be able to process musical information other than as gesture. (See an exception!) ColourMuse Book 1 is intended to cover the phase from single-handed playing to rudimentary 'hands together' and the first stages of independence of the hands.

After learning a while beginners develop sufficient muscular coordination to become dimly aware that there is a bigger picture - where rhythm is perceivable by ear, independently of their gestural sensations. ColourMuse Book 2 tackles this by beginning to teach beginners how to swing. It does this partly throu the semi-familiarity and easy melodic shapes of old nursery tunes, but also by first learning binary rhythms (oom-cha, oom-cha) and then using the same notes in ternary rhythms (where oom-cha-cha, oom-cha-cha rhythms require the player to wait for the middle beat). Most children find the idea of not playing on a certain beat more challenging than doing so, for the reasons outlined above. 

At this point young pianists are acquiring a biofeedback mechanism where their consciousness learns to balance the intellectual /psychological responses from eye and ear with the primary physiological demands of gesture. The knitting together of this holy trinity creates the ‘blue touch paper’ which can then be ignited by engaging the child's aesthetic sense by the choice of child-centred repertoire.

Child-centred music may be defined as simple melodic shapes, ideally familiar tunes, that are 'finger-logical'. Familiarity either of a tune or of its style is a vital ingredient because it offers a degree of predictability whereby children can intuitively 'make sense' of a tune's shape, which in turns builds confidence. For this reason ColourMuse principally uses 'public domain' music, ie folk tunes, nursery rhymes, carols and blues which, even where the tunes themselves may not be familiar, the music's style/s and shape/s are. It supplements these with a selection of tunes written by children themselves - because often a young learner with a natural melodic gift creates a little piece which is perfectly playable by others of the same skillset and has a quirkiness that matches the 'probabilities' of that mindset and thus engages other young children in a way that adult-composed children's music rarely achieves.

I had a very interesting example recently of how ColourMuse seems to work for children, when other piano methods haven't. A young girl had begun learning at school with one of the well-known piano books featuring adult-composed tunes. She could control her fingers reasonably well but wasn't progressing because had no real idea of why she was playing the piano - the experience wasn't triggering her endorphins. When she came to me I endeavoured to continue with her existing book, but after a fortnight I could see that she felt no 'ownership' of the pieces. Melodically there was nothing in them to 'hug her brain' in that unique way that the best of popular music can, so I changed her to ColourMuse; and on the second week she bounced into my studio note-perfect in her new pieces. It seemed pretty clear to me that this was because the music connected with her by its combination of melodic arc and finger-logic.

Learning how to play swing offers an interactive mechanism for developing the intellectual /psychological skill of perceiving rhythm independently of gesture. Acquirin this skillset is really analogous to teaching kids to ride a bike or swim. They're ways of creating virtuous circles that build self-confidence and thus, ultimately, self-esteem and self-reliance.

The first two ColourMuse books use noteheads of 7 differentiated colours within conventional musical orthography. This means beginners can read pitch intuitively from their first lesson. Colour is handled by a different neural pathway in the brain, and this enables children to register pitch simultaneously while processing rhythm within their conventional monochrome/shape pathway. This sidesteps the problem of 'data choke' that can afflict young children trying to read all-black notation. Children with dyslexia-related issues are among those who find prioritising all the information from a black and white page especially difficult; but a lot children also suffer from confusion about perceiving lines and spaces as representing equal-step pitch values. Coloured noteheads simply eliminate that problem in the early stages, when there is often so much else new to confuse them. [I have written more about this elsewhere.]     

If children have developed rhythmic self-confidence* during ColourMuse Book 2, then Book 3 is designed to help them make the transition to black notation. It prints the first 6 tunes on adjacent pages both in colour and black to enable them to learn in colour then transfer to playing from black notation in order to wean them from the more intuitive appearance to the somewhat sterner appearance of the monochrome page. (*Rhythmic confidence & SELF-confidence go hand in hand. Developing confident rhythmic awareness invariably boosts personal confidence.)

This transformation is easy for most, tho some find it less so. I have noticed that in general boys have less problem with the abstractness of a monochrome page than girls. There is no over-riding distinction between genders but my observation is that girls definitely find colour and pattern are more appealing, and a handful resist going onto black notation. Recent research about how male and female brains develop different neural circuitry in adolescence would seem to support my empirical observations. 

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This research would also tie into another observation - that males of all ages get far more upset by issues relating to dexterity than females. There seems to be something about tool use that is hard-wired to self-respect in the male brain! (Who knew?) At one time I taught quite a lot of young adult men who were actual or near beginners, and the only two I can remember persisting were already in bands and thus had a motivation to develop their skills. The rest became discouraged when they couldn't make what they hoped to play match their expectations. It is that latter word that holds the key because adult males seem to be particularly unforgiving of their own inabilities to meet the expectations they have. One can see this forming during the adolescent period. Boys below the age of about 17 can usually be helped over these hurdles because they don't have fixed issues around self-esteem and expectation, however these harden fairly rapidly once they're no longer protected by a family environment.

Surprisingly, I have discovered that pre-teen boys are far more prone to tears of frustration than girls! Indeed while I've witnessed a good dozen boys becoming upset or angry at being unable to play something I can only recall one girl reacting similarly - but she had other issues. Girls and women seem much more able to shrug off technical difficulties, and far less emotionally engaged by conquering them. The most awkward experience I've ever had as a teacher was with a popular local GP who decided to partner his son in learning the piano. As a medical trainer and tennis champ he was expecting to find piano an interesting challenge but during his first lesson he found it so hard to control his fingers to his own satisfaction that his whole self-image as a competent and confident person disintegrated before my very eyes. It was as distressing for me as it was for him, especially since I felt that he’dve been able to play reasonably well if he'd been willing to accept his initial limitations and given himself time ... but no second lesson ever took place.

2013/11/26

Creating the future

Maybe at the end of my life I shall be able to write genuinely popular music, but that will be after I've clarified my own darkness - and it was to encounter and process that that I entered the wilderness in 1992. I've only lately come to accept the full enormity (& I do mean enormity) of the burden of taking responsibility for the future.

How can other people's un/happiness rest on any decisions I take? Yet we see how within a family setting we all live with the consequences of decisions taken by our forebears, whether deliberate or accidental. How we were educated was also the consequence of decisions taken by others, possibly generations earlier. Could Purcell or Rembrandt imagine how they would still be influencing people 3 centuries later? So we who are creative artists in our turn will condition the lives of people we'll never meet.

Strangely, this task - the most crucial, the most intimate, the most wide-ranging - is simply up for grabs, like an undefended citadel. The only qualification for entrry is anywherelse(the fear of the Lord) and utter passivity. The job involves standing still and allowing light to flow throu you.

It doesn't come all the time, but when it does you have only to be a secretary. Whether or how it reaches other people, I have learnt, is simply not your responsibility. What is however is to keep your channel clear, the conscious-unconscious link; and here dreams are supremely important for unblockinh &/or keeping the inner fluid energy circulating.

2013/11/08

What is finished art?

There must be as many attitudes to what constitutes ‘completion’ of a work of art as there are creative artists. And the ‘final’ result depends on the life-perceptions that the artist holds as well as the discipline (solitary /collaborative) in which s/he has been drawn to work.

Some people are impelled by a mix of these factors to a high level of finish – for others their very perceptions may be based on ‘inspired dithering.’ In a way this is the journey for a creative individual. It is each artist’s own psychosomatic makeup that creates their signature quality - as of course it does for all of us.
 
I think however that a distinction lies between those who are driven by inner ideas & those who are processors of sensory experience. I tend towards the former, but I also think that those like C├ęzanne who tend more to be ‘observers’ often leave more pathways into their work, loose ends if you will, that makes them more accessible to the general public.

2013/11/07

An argument between my older & younger self

A friend raised the thorniest question of British cultural life last night, and eloquently articulated the perspective that my younger self espoused about the iniquities of the class system and its symbiotic relationship to private education. It set me thinking why I have come to take a more nuanced view.

One of the reasons is that I now think only the existence of a self-sustaining private education sector makes certain kinds of cultural transmission practical. In theory this could exist within the maintained sector, in practice there are huge political pressures against it, given the gimmicks and quackery of successive education ministers. The is exemplified by a recent remark about the pronouncements of 'The Supreme Goviet.' Every government in my lifetime has come in determined on root & branch reform, and the result is a wasteland of half-fulfilled initiatives any one of which mightve borne fruit if it had been allowed time to integrate.*
    Yet as this Gove’t seeks to draw the rings ever tighter around state schools it is simultaneously encouraging a totally-unaccountable stratum of state-funded autonomous schools - in the untested hope that by exempting a minority from their own constantly multiplying rules some miracle of transformation will occur. With results seen in Derby!
    In my view what is essential for the sake of true scholarship is a kind of bulwark against this level of constant shortterm political interference - and the only defence I can see is an economic one - and the least corruptible form of this is where there is a strong tradition of public service. Of course tradition is essentially conservative, and of course there are the political /social arguments that more equal societies have better outcomes for all their citizens, and particularly that social mobility is to the benefit of the body politic - but living in a country where no party seems to have the balls to take on the tax-dodging clout of the rightwing press, I have been obliged to study how to best to game the status quo for the longterm advantage of the Art I serve & the benefit of those wish to be apprenticed to it.
    I seriously question whether it is possible for all but a hardy few (with ingenious parents) to reach a conservatoire scholarship level with a proper breadth of musical background within the state sector. In certain localities perhaps, but in general …?

The central problem with ‘the least-worst form of government’ (democracy) is that by&large the majority of any population doesn’t know what the significant issues are, can't see wood for trees, and ultimately doesn’t care so long as they have enough to eat. You are entitled to shout at me for espousing such a cynical viewpoint, but far from thinking they deserve whatever they get I believe (with 19thC reformers) they deserve much better than they know how to ask for.
    I passionately want to see real education, not mere technical education: education that covers both right and left brain. But I do question how the former can be delivered within an environment that is wholly geared to the latter. We reward acquisition of intellectual consciousness, while at the same discounting or, at best, ignoring the acquisition of emotional coherence. Over the 20thC  Gove-rnmental structures have proved themselves effective at delivering broad social improvements, but they consistently prove themselves insensitive to, and destructive of, anything resembling autonomy or authenticity - which are the sine qua non of delivering true education or healing. (I doubt that we’ll see another generation of doctors with the robust independence of thought that all the many medics in my family showed.)
    In education, only where there is sufficient stability for traditions of nurture to survive or be grown can it really reflect the idea of drawing out students’ own authenticity. I don’t defend private education per se, but I do think the presence within a school of a coherent sustainable ethical framework with historical depth actively assists students to assimilate such values and fertilises their learning and uptake of the world.

You will object (as I do) that this inevitably favours the patriarchal & conservative, not to mention that it entrenches privilege, but I would say that the record of alternative ideologies over the last 40 years is patchy at best. I look back in particular at the great hopes of the 70s as embodied by the metropolitan left, of which I was once part, & their legacy in terms of disastrous misjudgments and unmet promises - not least the failure to produce a credible alternative to Thatcher or her successors - until Blair … but that's another story.
    I don’t blame any one party for exammania or examinitis, the frightful descent into the quantification (as opposed to qualification) of education - but it does make me wonder whether, for all their faults, the traditions of scholarship were not safer in the hands of patrons whose concepts of public service were inspired by religious and social obligation.
    I could argue against myself about this, and in particular the role of technology in undermining the status quo ante. I remember how passionately republican & anti-establishment I was, and how I believed that Britain could have the kind of energy Americans have (/had) if we overthrew our social superstructure. But where are all those great iconclasts that led us? Peter Cook died an alcoholic, and few of our 'great hopes' ended well. The 'cultural renaissance' of the 1960s that promised so much ended in smoke-rings and hot air.
    Visiting California cured me of any notion that anyone there had the answer. In general we seem to have imported only Americans' worst characteristics - and I come back to thinking there was much more to be said for the gentler age when people didn’t try to gouge the maximum out of the system & /or demand bonuses simply for doing their jobs properly than I thought at the time! Having spent quite a bit of time in France, I'm convinced that their contrat social worked pretty well; & it isn't their fault that the greedy bankers stole all lolly.

I think Russell Brand has hit the nail on the head. I grieve to say it because he's such a tosser, and also because the last person to nail the issues effectively was Tony Blair – & we all know what happened to him …!

As Pope said
For forms of government let fools contest,
Whate'er is best administered is best.

* My father was in the VIIIth Army & said that the problem in the desert under Auchinlech was not that he had no battleplan but that he had too many, covering all possible eventualities. WTRT everyone was confused as to which they should be following at any given moment. Monty’s genius /courage was to bin the lot & simply tell everyone exactly what he expected them to do & leave them to get on with it.

2013/11/05

Neurological Pathways

I wrote this to a mother whose dauter had had serious dexterity problems since starting the piano, but had suddenly managed to play a piece with a repeated LH pattern without difficulty.

R’s ability to remember that LH pattern & ‘disaggregate’ it from her RH (for want of a better word) was extremely interesting. My theory is that ‘contamination’ between physical L-R responses is the result of insufficient insulation between neural pathways. Apparently the receptor sites in the brain that handle L-R traffic are micrometers apart & I think what happens is the neurological equivalent of what in electronics would be called cross-talk between signals.
    What it suggests to me is that when R's brain knows there’s a pattern it actually diverts the signal for that hand via a different pathway - to /from a ‘knowing-memory’ centre as opposed to both going via a raw-info ‘reading-decoding’ centre. According to a docu I saw there are 37 centres in the brain that process different kinds of stimuli. That’s why kids find it so much easier to respond when a music page is broken into colours & shapes rather than shapes alone.
   
To me it makes teaching a lot more interesting if you can discern what responsory ‘inhibitions’ are creating problems for people. That’s one of the reasons why ColourMuse works so well, because I've spent years observing what kinds of gestural patterns kids find it intuitively easy to grasp and adapting the music to optimise them. I've tried without success to interest music psychologists in my observations based on teaching so many small people.

Last term a 7 y/o came to me who had been learning at school: she was quite able but had no real idea ‘why' she was playing the piano because her piano book didn’t offer pieces based on ‘finger logic’. IE, tho she could play them they didn’t make any (neuro-logic) ’sense’ to her as patterns, therefore she played without rhythmic understanding because she couldn’t grasp what effect was intended to be. After just two weeks on ColourMuse, she has been transformed: one can immediately hear that she knows what /why she's playing, because there’s an ‘endorphin payoff’ / neurological satisfaction.
    It would be interesting to get such info into the public domain; but when nobody’s asking the questions, the answers don’t make any sense!

2013/05/31

Maya

Surface reality (maya), by means of its power to hide true inner nature and to impose the ‘unreal’ on inner reality, makes the underlying unity of ‘all that is’ (brahmam) appear separately as three separate entities: human beings (jiva), God/s (easwara) & the material world (jagath). The distorting factor/s in surface reality only take hold when there is a mind to observe them. At this point the seedlings of the huge tree that is the material world begin to sprout and put forth leaves, which are the mental impulses (vasanas) that guide us to conclusions about the nature of the world (sankalpas). Thus the objective world is to a large degree the product (vilasa) of the assumptions underlying what we see.

Humans beings and Gods are in equal measure products of this process, since what we see them as is inextricably part of our mental projection/s. Imagine everything that informs our physical existence as a painting, in which humans, gods and their interactions are depicted against a backdrop of the physical world. It is all produced by the same mental process of maya, part of whose illusive power is to confer apparent difference, based on human perspectives – the same dance within which we perceive s/he & I, this and that, and mine and hirs.
The seed syllables within the term sohamidam express: ‘sah’, the unmanifest (that transcendent power, easwara, that creates existence): ‘aham’ is I, the jiva or entity within the consciousness of the doer: and ‘idam’ is the material world, jagath. Yet even these, as perceived by humans, have only relative value, and change in interpretation from generation to generation.

In waking and dreaming alike these govern our perceptions, only when the mind no longer retains any form of consciousness, as for instance in deep sleep, do we experience the ultimate reality which in-forms all life-forms. The principal task awaiting those who seek wisdom (jnana) is to gain release from the mental processes which prescribe differentiation. To become grounded in the sense of underlying unity is possess indivisible wisdom (advaitha jnana).

Only the wisdom gained by analysis and elimination of the mental processes can end the reign of illusion. For illusion itself flourishes where there is ignorance and lack of discrimination, thus vidya, instruction, spells the doom of maya.

2013/05/16

Love Itself

Humans did not come into existence just to laze around in casual joy and fleeting happiness. There are much bigger purposes to life, which we fail to see so long as we identify our Self entirely with the ego-mind, for attachment to what is 'mine' is the root cause of sorrow.

The ego-mind craves reassurance from people, objects and places. This need creates affection & attachment which ultimately ties us to the object. The effect of this craving is to imprison our consciousness within matter. To keep the psyche free is liberation in the true sense. Thus it is the mind which creates both imprisonment and liberation. It runs after an object - gets attached - the senses are alerted - affection develops - actions result - the mind is rendered happy or unhappy - feeling ensues - and so the the way is left open for fear and possibly anger. That’s how we're caught.

Affection, fear and anger are all close comrades of Attachment. These inseparable companions follow each other around. Which is why great writers assert “happiness and attachment chase each other’s tails." Happiness, in general, comes from the fulfilment of desire. Yet desire also leads to a partiality towards those who feed it, and a hatred of those who thwart it. Thus the inevitable wheel of opposites, of likes and dislikes, begins to turn - within which the ignorant are trapt.

When impure gold is melted in the crucible it emerges shining and bright. The mind, clouded by the impressions of a myriad attachments and desires, can only be restored to its original brightness and sharpness if put into the crucible of Inquiry and heated on the coals of Discrimination. That brightness grows as you begin to become conscious of your quintessential nature or atma (from which the word atom comes).

Like a wind-storm that covers everything with dust: the desires, attachments, thirsts and cravings all darken the mind. They have to be kept at bay so that the splendour of the soul /atma can emerge, reflecting as it does the highest manifestation of the humanity’s best qualities and potential, and the relationship each of us has to the collective identity of those around us, or paramatma.

Whatever the crisis, however deep the misery, do not allow your grip of your inner consciousness over the ego-mind to be dislodged; maintain it by fixing your eyes on these higher values. Subordinate it to your sense the paramatma, the good created by good people. Hold the ego-mind within the holy tabernacle of the heart. Thus one can progress from falling in love with people, objects and places (the differentiated forms of atma) to loving the undifferentiated or formless reality of brahma (all that is). The delusion of a reality created by objects has to disappear without trace. Only when our experience is no longer based on duality do we see the ultimate reality (brahmam) underpinning all existence, and so find genuine freedom from the illusions created by the body-mind complex. From this comes a sense of falling in love with love itself.

Abridged from Jnana Vahini by Sai Baba

2013/02/03

Why is there a problem with Secondary Education?

Ever since The Enlightenment we have increasingly come to identify consciousness with rationality & the ego. But rationality is a left-brain concept - and is only capable of describing half the world - while the ego is a product of the monkey mind. The other half, the creative, intuitive aspect of the human animal has no place in our modern world of quantification and control. And until that changes nothing else will change.

This is a global curse afflicting the Western thought & acts reciprocally with the nuclear reductionism of science to create a mind-lock, every bit as powerful to contemporary consciousness as voodoo to a primitive one! And since the impulse to control is one thing that unites educrats & pols everywhere I don’t foresee anything changing unless we reach some unimaginable kind of crisis. That is, unless there is someone with the necessary charisma hangs on inside the system & becomes a catalyst articulating a coherent alternative in the echelons of the pyramid. Probably these people exist. It’s just that the current archetype is so powerful that it dominates the landscape, and people are such absolute sheep that they can't /daren't oppose the dominant thought-form of the age. That’s why Gove has the wind in his sails.

The subsidiary problem I’ve come to realise is that probably only a single digit percentage of a population actually thinks for themselves - or indeed is even capable of it. The overwhelming majority (at least of the British) will willingly allow themselves to be herded into cattle pens provided they're adequately fed & watered. I see the state educational system as a vast sausage machine designed to grind out a literate compliant workforce, trained to respond to a series of ever-receding carrots placed in front of their faces. There’s a very helpful remark of Jung’s: 'Love & Power cannot coexist’ - which we might rephrase as ‘Love & Gove cannot coexist!’

People bemoan the success of private education in preparing people for leadership positions; but the one thing it bestows on its pupils (apart from a sense of privilege) is the power to think for themselves. Now this could be provided within the state system, but only by freeing teachers from central control & allowing schools to create their own culture, as private schools do. But that is the one thing pols & educrats will never agree to. The rhetoric is that Free Schools & Academies will do this. On another planet! So, there isn't an answer.

I'm not the least bit pessimistic, because - in Gershwin’s lyric - ‘I know how many many times the worm has turned.’ Humanity has an extraordinary ability to sleepwalk to the edge of the cliff & suddenly wheel round spontaneously as enough people see the disaster coming to convince the rest. Another of Jung’s dicta is that it isn't lust that is the besetting sin of humanity it's laziness. People collude in their own worst interest. [See research on why the poor vote Republican & against Medicare by Jonathan Haidt] Between elections they say the public answers polls by saying they wouldn’t mind paying more tax if they got better health & education. In practise they NEVER vote for it, & are ALWAYS swayed by the party offering tax cuts - which is invariably the ‘propertied’ party whose constituency by & large can afford not to use public services. Paradoxically, research in The Spirit Level conclusively demonstrates that in societies where a social equilibrium is maintained by an element of redistributive taxation (Scandinavian countries & Japan) every index of health, social cohesiveness and  personal wellbeing is superior to societies that permit colossal disparities of wealth (the Anglo-Saxon model).

So, the issue is far wider than education. Maybe examinitis or exammania will change in my lifetime. Maybe it won’t.

2013/01/19

The genesis of They

The acappella ‘canticle' of mine called They represents the work I've been engaged on ‘in the darkness’ for the last decade. The text began as a dictation in the lucid period after waking. Later I set it to music for double choir, which is a uniquely beautiful combo that allows for antiphonal effects. The last part is the best fun. Nobody has ever written for voices exactly like this, and it’s tremendously demanding. It would take state-of-the-art session singers to bring it off - especially at its great length, about 17’ - but I know that it is performable. All I can show is a synth demo which provides a simulacrum of the effect. But in this and other work there lies, I believe, great healing which is partly musical & partly the result of people co-vibing as choral demands – and when the world is ready for it, it will emerge.

I see myself as a humble brick-layer working on a tiny aspect of a vast design of which I can make neither head nor tail; but this is my assigned position & all that is required of me is to do it with my best craftsmanship. When we talked about the requirement for art to engage with people, I thought about my own position - or rather lack of it. When I was young I thought I could be both Moses & Aaron - but actually all I was doing was working from my monkey mind. What emerged from it may notve been too bad but it hadn’t been encoded with the power of spirit – WITS with the ‘innergy’ or vertu of allowing the unconscious or Self to speak unmediated by mere rationality. This I believe to be the true rebirth of which Christ speaks to Nicodemus in the first chapter of John, and is (in one form or another) the core teaching of all faith traditions and Jung.

It was a blind instinctive search for this inner reality that impelled me to jump from the moving train 22 years ago; and is what I found - where it can only be found - in the wilderness. It has taught me that there is a necessary distinction between the function of a Merlin or a Moses, and that of an Arthur or Aaron. The introvert world a seer must develop cannot cope with the pressures of the extravert world that the leader must necessarily inhabit: yet for one to set the pasSWORD & the other to crack it both must glimpse something of each other’s milieu - and in that ‘marriage’ of complementarity is wholeness created, which cannot exist otherhow since no single person can encompass their full circumference.

On the one hand, I'm frustrated that I cannot make my music heard - & believe me I've tried - but the time simply isn't ready for it. My youthful response was to adopt other voices & pass myself off as a member of the great unwashed simply in order to gain access to the zeitgeist. To a degree I succeeded, but then I realised the wind was beginning to change (as Casanova says: I had reached the point where fortune no longer smiles on men) & I would be stuck for eternity with a face that wasn’t my own.

The bit that torments me, is that I could be completely deluded & what I write really is rubbish & as totally irrelevant everyonelse thinks it is. But then I listen to something like Ives’ Concord Sonata or Housatonic at Stockbridge, and think ‘yes everybody thought this was rubbish too’ until Bernstein decoded his spiritual vision & made sense of it for his contemporaries. As far as is known Ives never actually heard his own music performed, but for the arrow a composer fires into the night sky performance is where it falls to earth. That’s what everyonelse witnesses: the first part they know nothing about. 

What I so much admire about what my dauter Sefa has done is that at some level she knows all this stuff. To a young person, being understood and accepted as part of a group is almost the raison d’art, and the fact that Sefa’s had the courage to grit it out and learn to stand in her own truth /voice is an astonishing achievement: and it’s thrilling that after a long and tricky path people are really beginning to respond.

2013/01/16

To the parent of a young musician

I don’t think B will be the kind of musician conventional teaching can help. She's very musical but in musical academe music reading is the be-all & end-all; and I don’t think she's ever going to find that easy. In any case I suspect her whole interest is geared towards popular music, and around here I haven’t discovered a single school I know of with a music department with the staff or attitude capable of taking her in that direction.

So where to go? Apart from the Brit School in Croydon & LIPA in Liverpool I don’t of anywhere that offers the popular music equivalent of Wells. Most of the major public schools do now have proper recording studios etc but we'd be talking about the £33k+ bracket, and I'm afraid B isn't yet in the scholarship bracket.
  
The problem is one of demand: popular music doesn’t lend itself to academicism, ergo most people do it in spite of not because of school (which is really just as it should be!), ergo schools aren't geared up to offer it. Where there is a high standard of music it will generally be because there is a far-sighted HofM who has made it his life’s work to develop a virtuous circle by picking good teachers (& paying them properly) who in turn attract talented pupils who win awards thereby raising the school’s reputation and so retaining the excellent teachers. But even this can be ruined in two years if the school appoints an eejit as a replacement.
  
There are more choices at VIth form. And it may be that B is better off staying where she is now, but planning ahead for where she wants to go in (… do they now call it?) Year 13. There used to be a super music course at Andover FE, run by a guy who went on to become H of Kb at the RNCM, but when he left they appointed a deadhead & so it went back to being averagely rubbish.
  
But even if you think you’ve found somewhere suitable it’s not easy. I'll tell you a true story. Someone I know had an attractive & bright personality but utterly unacademic son, so after struggling at a number of schools where regardless of expense he managed a couple of GCSEs at most, my friend sent him to a private so-called technology college. At the end of the first year his parents were called to see the Head, who very politely asked them not to send the boy back for the second year as he was predicted to get no A levels, and the school couldn’t afford to see its OFSTED ratings dragged down. So be warned, it aint easy no matter how much you pay!  

I see all this with incredulity & can't imagine just how out of touch with the needs of young these so-called professionals can be? The real problem tho is that educrats everywhere are mesmerised by ‘solutions’, namely imposed curriculums & constant quantification. It could be different but just about every government (& this one more than most) believes that the answer to educational ‘standards’ is to rain new initiatives down on schools on a weekly basis and terrorise the very people who, if given a free hand, would improve children’s education. 
  
There simply isn't an answer that I can see, unless you're fortunate enough to live near a good school. Maybe we’re near the high water mark of this strange exam-mania? 

If one is the only one marching in step it’s hard to work out why noonelse is! But it just seems to be this herd phenomenon in human nature (last seen in the bankers) that as long as everyone’s all wrong at the same time then noone is to blame, and ’noone’ could have foreseen disaster looming. I just think we're stoking a social timebomb by failing to understand the needs of kids & forcing them throu an educational system which prescribes the hoops they must all jump throu uniformly, yet deprives them of the opportunity to take personal responsibility for actually doing so. I just try to help those who come to me to develop their uniqueness so that it helps them to find themselves. That’s what I can't forgive conventional education for failing to do.  
  
I rant like this because I constantly think: it really can't be that hard to get it right if you look in the right direction - & yet apparently it is, especially since the world is looking in completely the wrong direction at the present time! But mutatis mutandis!

My observation of B is that she is 'too willing' accept goals set by others. For her to consider any sort of career as a musician she would need to be able to evolve & meet her own goals. For instance, altho we are struggling with & will doubtless master our current piece - which will have a valuable effect on her piano technique; she needs simultaneously to begin to think entirely outside such boxes. I don’t see much evidence that she has begun to do that, & that above anything will come to define her ‘will to self-realise’. That’s the bit we need to make grow if she's to do anything more than fanny about with music. But it’s impossible to force this without adverse consequences.

The important thing to remember is that every plant unfolds at its own rate. Nowadays we have a neurotic obsession that everyone has to accomplish everything at least 2(0) years before they're ready to. S is 31, and it’s taken her 10 years of an exiguous existence after college where she won prizes as a classical performer to evolve into the persona that is now being feted. All the time we'd nag at her about constantly running out of money & getting into scrapes, yet turning down the sort of work she that couldve made her a reasonable living in the background: but she would say ‘you just have to trust me.’  And because we both understand the process we did.

The heart knows its own joys best, nor can another share its sorrows. If that sentence doesn’t resonate for a creative artist, then they probably aren't one. Even the crudest entertainer must have something of the need to seek validation of hir inner world by expressing it to others & getting some kind of response. No amount of book learning provides this: indeed it probably suppresses it. But that’s what needs to precede anything.

What interests me is that all these questions which appear to be merely educational are, in the broadest sense, spiritual. WITS that they are about imaginative or non-materialistic reality: and that is the desperate loss in contemporary education - that humans are more than a quantisation of their productive capacity.