Flutist Dawn Weiss, teacher, event performer
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Two Aspects of Music
by Dawn Weiss

Playing an instrument beautifully and artistically has a basic contradiction built into its very essence. The creative musical experience itself is achieved in a state of transcendence beyond any technical or mental constructs, yet the integrity of the performance relies on the purity and precision of the details of the structure. On the one hand the music cannot survive without this focus on accuracy, on the other hand, attention to technique can lead a player astray from the musical experience.

In addition to this basic paradox, the attempt to teach or verbally discuss music performance reinforces this conflict by the very nature of mental analysis inherent in communication. How can a person describe the physical, auditory essence of music making without reducing hearing, sensing and feeling into analytical, detached formulas?

Learning for humans, as has been noted and described by many psychological studies, takes place through personal experimentation. The new experience is somehow stumbled upon, and after several “inspired accidents” the mind begins to get awareness about the new experience. Later, deliberate attempts to reproduce this new experience develop the possibility of mastering it.

Take a baby, learning to walk, for example. First of all, note that the desire to learn is inherent in the baby. It is not just a desire but a need to learn, experiment, and discover new sensations and experiences. This desire brings the baby into repetitious movements and variation of movements. Eventually the toddler can balance, then take a step, learn from its falling and take several steps. It does not learn by thinking, but by doing. The parent, in this case, the teacher, encourages by attention, approval, love and by guarding the safety of the child while challenging the child by moving slightly further away, making the goal slightly greater.

Teachers have a similar responsibility to their developing students. Babies don’t’ try to fall, they fall naturally in the process of developing motor control and concentration. Students don’t try to fall either. Parents support and encourage the learning process and try to reduce the pain, hurt and frustration of the falls. So it needs to be in teaching an instrument. Similarly, teachers need to encourage, support and have understanding and patience.

So what is it that we teach and what do we learn? We are learning a new way to be in the world, a new functioning, a more aware musculature, coordination and reflexes, developed listening skills, more synchronized body rhythm, etc. In short, we are gradually transformed into a more sensitive, responsive, focused being. In addition to this, to become an artist, we need to become more fully aware of life’s secrets through our quiet moments and inner search. Again the paradox exists. The training is both mental/technical and spiritual/transcendental. In modern descriptive terms, we need to be whole brained, we need to develop and be responsive to both hemispheres of the brain and achieve a delicate balance.

To teach this balance is to constantly monitor technical improvement while encouraging a creative, non-mental approach. One must require concentrated practice while simultaneously encouraging open, responsive, creative states of mind.
In any given performance the performer moves in and out of these mind sets as the demands of the music dictate. One has to be ready and available in a split second to be mentally alert while maintaining composure and staying in a spiritually, creative responsive mode.

For most of us, the Western scientific, left brain focus has been our mode of learning and later becomes our way of teaching. Yet, one would be denying the very essence of our transcendent art to minimize the importance of the right brain, creative, approach to music making. Many people can mentally approximate musicality by formula, but even the untrained audience hears the difference between the controlled technician and the artist who allows the “muse” to come through. One can hold in great admiration and respect the technical brilliance of a performance but becomes awe inspired by the performance that goes beyond that technique.

As indicated earlier, the goal is to achieve the highest in both realms. In my opinion, our Western form of teaching focuses primarily on the technical and hopes that when students arrive at a high level of technical ability they will somehow let go of the mental approach, tap into their own personal awareness and bridge the gap between the two. In fact, many teachers discourage creative experimentation, because it diverts attention from rapid technical advancement.

It is my hope by this article to show that a balance needs to be encouraged. That time has to be devoted to allowing the inner musician to be present during all stages of musical development. Unfortunately because of the competition system, focus is placed on learning harder, faster music, and students are rewarded first for their technical achievement. This causes a de-emphasis in the other aspects of music making. These other aspects, in my opinion, are the difference between music being a fine craft or a creative, living art. Both have their value and place, one as a high form of human excellence, the other as the highest expression of creation.

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