The other night I went to see a movie called “Is the man who is tall happy?” . It is basically an interview between the director Michel Gondry and Noam Chomsky. When I read about this movie, I was very excited. Noam Chomsky has to be one of the very few great minds of the century whom I most admire, among Krishnamurti, Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim (his “Music quickens time” is marvelous, and I shall talk about it in another post).
When I was studying in the States over a decade ago, I incidentally read about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and was somehow deeply engrossed in it. Then I got to read about Said and perhaps Chomsky around the same time (maybe even Barenboim on this issue as well, Krishnamurti is a much recent read and is entirely unrelated to this topic albeit very important in my reading list). I do not want to venture too far into their philosophy and the political issue here, since after all this site is about music and piano. But I found some very inspiring ideas in the movie /documentary (which I watched with utmost attention like I never had with anything I’ve seen in recent years- I have ventured far away from anything “deep” and serious” that requires much brain power after exhausting work) that I would like to share with you here and they are very much related to how we play and practice etc.
One point Chomsky mentioned in the movie is that we have to question about everything and don’t just take it for granted. For example, why does the ball always bounce down the stairs? Can it not bounce up? You might find that absurd, “of course it goes down! It has always been like this like forever!” But his point is that if we take everything as is and do not question the things for ganted, how do all the inventions and discoveries come from, like the light bulb and the gravity ? Certainly Edison and Newton must have questioned themselves and the phenomenon thousands of times before the invention and discovery came through. And for sure they did not know if and when they were going to succeed at all. All they did were keep trying and and failing and changing/modifying the ways they were trying to get better results and achieve their goals.
What I want to point out here is, we don’t know which one method is going to work (best) until we start trying in different ways and modifying them along the way. It is exactly the trial and error procedure that brings us to success. So, try to play and practice in a different way every single day. “Be creative!”, like Chomsky said. If (even) science needs creativity, how can playing the piano not? As a matter of fact, every great thing in life needs creativity. Otherwise it just gets so boring and unimaginative that there will be not creation of anything new and amazing in life, whether it be the next new iPhone or another “Let It Go” song. Don’t you always find the children are best at creating something new and funny, that makes you laugh so hard and feel so touched sometimes? (when they don’t make you cry that is). Let’s not give ourselves a fixed boundary to the way we think about and play the music, be always flowing and be present at the piano. Question a lot about the way you play and practice, I mean, a lot, all the time. Don’t try to play the music the same way over and over again. Try many ways as much as you can. Focus on what you are doing and listen to what and how you are playing, and pay attention to the tone the piano is giving back to you, then adjust accordingly. Adjust in the most minute way in terms of the movement, the dynamics, the timing, the articulation and the phrasing etc. You have to work with her but not fight with her. Honest and open communication is the key – to express yourself freely with and at the piano. Create the sound you want. You are the one who can do everything and nothing. (Of course you also need adequate knowledge and skills to do so, but that is not the point I am trying to make here – you can read elsewhere about that on this site). You are the one to decide what you can achieve at the piano. But do not force it, one thing at a time. Be open-minded and at the same time forget about yourself. You are not important in this equation here. Music is. Focus on how to make the desired sound to present the beautiful music to the fullest.
Music is the last element in this whole universe that is so pure and beautiful (taking away the human factor). Cherish your moment in your playing. Be grateful for the opportunity to have piano in your life. Keep that treasure close to your heart and keep it well and alive. Open your heart mind and body to accept the endless possibilities in playing the piano “right”. If you truly and sincerely love music with all the heart like I do (at least while you are at it), you would know what I mean, even just a small fraction of it.
Now I must go read Barenboim’s book…