What is the purpose of playing the piano?

中文版: 彈琴的目的是什麼?

November 11, 2012

I never thought about this for myself- “what is the purpose of playing the piano”. For me, playing the piano has always been part of my life, ever since I have chosen to do it. It is simply part of me and cannot be separated from my life. But recently I start to think, do I want to keep doing this? …

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I remembered the first conversation with this one new student recently. I asked her why she wanted to play the piano (this is a question I almost always ask my students when I first meet them). She told me it was for her own pleasure only, to express her emotion during her playing, that she did not do this to try to play to/for anyone. At first I was a bit surprised by that answer. Then I thought, why not, for sure it was most important that whatever you did you did for yourself first (or even only), there was absolutely no problem with that at all. In fact, everything we do should stem from what we want to do to/for ourselves. For example, we want to eat because we feel hungry and so, in order to satisfy our stomach we put some food in our body. To do so, we can just grab a simple bite at local café, or we can have a fancy elaborate dinner at an upscale French restaurant. So for some people, they just want to learn to play one piece, and they spend many hours fixing that piece, not knowing how to read the score and all, simply memorizing how to execute that one piece on the piano. That is quite fine. Or, some people just want to learn to play a lot of pieces without venturing into all those details of basics, technique, musicality, harmony and structure etc. And there is nothing wrong with that either. For others, playing the piano is a kind of relaxation, away from their strenuous work and hectic lives. Yet, for those who want to truly understand the meaning of music and piano playing, they would need much more effort, time, focus, patience, perseverance and passion in the process, in order to delve deeper into the hidden treasure there is to offer for those who have the desire to learn. That would equal to a chef creating the most exquisite culinary experience with the freshest and most precious ingredients under the most complicated cooking procedures/preparation, a parfumeur creating the most unique fragrance with all his/her heart and soul, a fashion designer insisting on the absolute details of every thread on a clothing item, an architect designing a building of combination of arts and practicality upon consideration of the users’ interest, or a waiter/tress taking care of his/her customers’ every need, making sure they are having the best dining experience of their lives. It is simply the ultimate level for excellency in any area. But what they are trying to do is, they do that for themselves, they strive for excellency, and they want to share that beauty of excellency with others, because they have the highest level of passion for what they do and what they believe in, and in their hopes and dreams, they want to influence and inspire others.

So yes, Students, please play for yourselves. Play because you want to do it so well, so much, that you can feel it in your blood and vein, under your skin. Feel the music vibrate and resonate in you and within you. Feel the wonder and beauty of music in your body and soul. Feel the joy and pain, that soothing relief and that churning ache in your heart. Play each time like it were the last time. And in fact, it is, because there is never the same time and it is the only time for that time.

We always worry too much about how we are doing in the process of our playing. We are too fast and too furious to judge ourselves even before anyone hears anything wrong. Such behavior is not only unhelpful but also detrimental to our performance. Surely we have to be self-critical of our own playing and that is how we improve our technique and musicality. But we must not do that during our performance or our lesson in which we are supposed to be presenting the music but not correcting ourselves. Focus on the Present (that one phrase, one bar, one chord, one note), Forget about the Past (mistakes), and Hope for the Future (next section, next phrase, next bar, next note).

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I have thought about quitting piano performance/playing myself recently. I have played so many years, do I need to continue? Am I still doing it because I do not want to take risk/too lazy to to do something else? Maybe it is time to move on? But my Friend said to me, “you never know whom in the audience you have inspired or influenced, even if you think you did not do that well. That could be the igniting moment for that one person, be inspired to enjoy music for the rest of his/her life.” I just have to agree on that. And as an example to my students, I will not give up. I have to improve and keep going. So, my Students, let us do that hand in hand. You are my motivation to carry on. You are my students at the same time my teacher. Namaste.

Teresa Wong

P.S. You all are still playing the piano and taking lessons with me because you want to, because you love music, you love playing the piano, it does not matter at which level you are at, how slow/fast your improvement is, just keep on doing it, and you will see the progress along the way – we are already seeing it, don’t you think so?

And most importantly, feel good about where you are at and move forward from there. Love your playing as whichever level it is at the same time strive for the better of yourself without comparing to the other players. That is all I ask of you.

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