Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Clear Mind Leads to Mastery

I have to admit that the winter Olympic Games in Vancouver have captured my imagination more than I expected this week. It seems that there is no limit to the variety of events that seem to be added every four years. I am incredulous over jaw dropping demands that these competitions place on human bodies, often at unimaginable speeds, or aloft high in the air, or across terrain that God certainly did not intend people to navigate on skis, skates or snowboards. I was thinking about how athletes need to train to do these ridiculously hard things so that movement looks effortless. And then I was thinking about how pianists develop technical skills to overcome challenging difficulties so that their movements are as facile and fluent as a champion ski racer on a slalom course. This reminded of quote me from Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians: “Only when the form grows clear to you, will the spirit become so too.”

One of my pet theories that I think applies with equal veracity to both music and life is that mastery of anything worth doing excellently starts with clear thinking. It is only after I study a passage long enough to understand how it really works that I can make it sound easy. I may be able to read the music accurately and push down the proper keys in the correct sequence, but if I misread the essential design or form of a musical gesture, the results will usually sound awkward and clunky. Often my first understanding of a thing is superficial and distorted because some small detail has captured my attention inappropriately, and then I miss the big picture. Curiously, my first readings of things tend to be unnecessarily complex when underneath there is a simpler idea that is far easier to think and bring to life. I am coming to understand that cultivating this clarity of mind is the real work both in the music I play and in living life.

Incidentally, Project Gutenburg offers a free download version of Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians. This .pdf is a beautiful reproduction and includes the complete text in both German and in English translation. You can download it here.

Posted via email from pkpiano's posterous

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